Honor roll: National Book Award for Fiction

Each of these books has been nominated for a National Book Award for Fiction. They are ranked by honors received.

Book:A Flag for Sunrise

A Flag for Sunrise

Robert Stone

Diverse characters are drawn into the maelstrom of Tecan, a small Central American country on the brink of revolution.

At a mission on the coast a priest is lapsing into alcoholic mysticism, while a young American nun is veering towards commitment to the cause. In a bar in Brooklyn, Frank Holliwell is lunching with an old CIA friend who is begging for a favour. On the Tex—Mex border, Pablo, a Coast Guard deserter, loco on speed, is about to take a job carrying mysterious contraband to Tecan. As these lives converge and this small, crowded world erupts, the novel builds to an electrifying climax.

Book:Billy Bathgate

Billy Bathgate

E.L. Doctorow

In 1930’s New York, Billy Bathgate, a fifteen-year-old high-school dropout, has captured the attention of infamous gangster Dutch Schultz, who lures the boy into his world of racketeering. The product of an East Bronx upbringing by his half-crazy Irish Catholic mother, after his Jewish father left them long ago, Billy is captivated by the world of money, sex, and high society the charismatic Schultz has to offer. But it is also a world of extortion, brutality, and murder, where Billy finds himself involved in a dangerous affair with Schultz’s girlfriend. Relive this story through the title character’s driving narrative, a child’s thoughts and feelings filtered through the sensibilities of an adult, and the result is E.L. Doctorow’s most convincing and appealing portrayal of a young boy’s life. Converging mythology and history, one of America’s most admired authors has captured the romance of gangsters and criminal enterprise that continues to fascinate the American psyche today.

Book:Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant

Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant: A Novel

Anne Tyler

Pearl Tull is nearing the end of her life but not her memory. Ever since 1944 when her husband left her, she has raised her three very different children on her own. Now grown, they have gathered together—with anger, with hope, and with a beautiful, harsh, and dazzling story to tell….

Book:Rabbit Is Rich

Rabbit Is Rich

John Updike

The hero of John Updike’s Rabbit, Run (1960), ten years after the hectic events described in Rabbit Redux (1971), has come to enjoy considerable prosperity as Chief Sales Representative of Springer Motors, a Toyota agency in Brewer, Pennsylvania. The time is 1979: Skylab is falling, gas lines are lengthening, the President collapses while running in a marathon, and double-digit inflation coincides with a deflation of national confidence. Nevertheless, Harry Angstrom feels in good shape, ready to enjoy life at last—until his son, Nelson, returns from the West, and the image of an old love pays a visit to his lot. New characters and old populate these scenes from Rabbit’s middle age, as he continues to pursue, in his erratic fashion, the rainbow of happiness.

Book:The Stories of John Cheever

The Stories of John Cheever

John Cheever

Here are sixty-one stories that chronicle the lives of what has been called “the greatest generation.” From the early wonder and disillusionment of city life in “The Enormous Radio” to the surprising discoveries and common mysteries of suburbia in “The Housebreaker of Shady Hill” and “The Swimmer,” Cheever tells us everything we need to know about “the pain and sweetness of life.”

Book:A Summons to Memphis

A Summons to Memphis

Peter Taylor

During the twilight of a Sunday afternoon in March, New York book editor Phillip Carver receives an urgent phone call from each of his older, unmarried sisters. They plead with Phillip to help avert their widower father’s impending remarriage to a younger woman. Hesitant to get embroiled in a family drama, he reluctantly agrees to go back south, only to discover the true motivation behing his sisters’ concern. While there, Phillip is forced to confront his domineering siblings, a controlling patriarch, and flood of memories from this troubled past.

Peter Taylor is one of the masters of Southern literature, whose work stands in the company of Eudora Walty, James Agee, and Walker Percy. In A Summons to Memphis, he composed a richly evocative story of revenge, resolution, and redemption, and gave us a classic work of American literature.

Book:The Second Coming

The Second Coming: A Novel

Walker Percy

Will Barrett, a lonely widower, suffers from a depression so strange and severe that he decides he doesn’t want to continue living. But then he meets Allison, a mental hospital escapee making a new life for herself, living alone in a greenhouse. What follows is by turns touching and zany, tragic and comic, as Will goes in search of proof of God and winds up finding much more.

Book:That Night: A Novel

That Night: A Novel

Alice McDermott

Suburban Long Island in the 60s is the setting for this story of the binding love between a young couple, and the drastic actions they must take when she becomes pregnant. From the author of The Bigamist’s Daughter.

Book:The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love

The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love: A Novel

Oscar Hijuelos

It’s 1949. It’s the era of the mambo, and two young Cuban musicians make their way up from Havana to the grand stage of New York. The Castillo brothers, workers by day, become by night stars of the dance halls, where their orchestra plays the lush, sensuous, pulsing music that earns them the title of the Mambo Kings. This is their moment of youth—a golden time that thirty years later will be remembered with nostalgia and deep afection. In The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love, Oscar Hijuelos has created a rich and enthralling novel about passion and loss, memory and desire.

Book:Beloved (Toni Morrison)

Beloved

Toni Morrison

At the center of Toni Morrison’s fifth novel is an almost unspeakable act of horror and heroism: a woman brutally kills her infant daughter rather than allow her to be enslaved. The woman is Sethe, and the novel traces her journey from slavery to freedom during and immediately following the Civil War.

Woven into this circular, mesmerizing narrative are the horrible truths of Sethe’s past: the incredible cruelties she endured as a slave, and the hardships she suffered in her journey north to freedom. Just as Sethe finds the past too painful to remember, and the future just “a matter of keeping the past at bay,” her story is almost too painful to read. Yet Morrison manages to imbue the wreckage of her characters’ lives with compassion, humanity, and humor.

Part ghost story, part history lesson, part folk tale, Beloved finds beauty in the unbearable, and lets us all see the enduring promise of hope that lies in anyone’s future.

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