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:Foreign Affairs

Foreign Affairs

Alison Lurie

Alison Lurie’s Pulitzer Prize-winning masterpiece is both a splendid comedy and poignant love story about two American academics in London. Virginia Miner, an unmarried tenured professor, is an Anglophile on leave to research a book. Fred Turner, a teacher at the same university, is recently separated, flat broke and miserable in this city where the rain never seems to end. The separate paths of these two lonely and naive innocents abroad lead them to strikingly similar destinations of newfound passion…and unexpected love.

By turns hilarious and intensely moving, Foreign Affairs is a dazzling accomplishment—timely, captivating and unforgettable.

Book:So Long, See You Tomorrow

So Long, See You Tomorrow

William Maxwell

On an Illinois farm in the 1920s, a man is murdered, and in the same moment the tenous friendship between two lonely boys comes to an end. In telling their interconnected stories, American Book Award winner William delivers a masterfully restrained and magically evocative meditation on the past. “A small, perfect novel.”—Washington Post Book World.

Book:The Transit of Venus

The Transit of Venus

Shirley Hazzard

The Transit of Venus is considered Shirley Hazzard’s most brilliant novel. It tells the story of two orphan sisters, Caroline and Grace Bell, as they leave Australia to start a new life in post-war England. What happens to these young women—seduction and abandonment, marriage and widowhood, love and betrayal—becomes as moving and wonderful and yet as predestined as the transits of the planets themselves. Gorgeously written and intricately constructed, Hazzard’s novel is a story of place: Sydney, London, New York, Stockholm; of time: from the fifties to the eighties; and above all, of women and men in their passage through the displacements and absurdities of modern life.

Book:The Executioner's Song

The Executioner's Song

Norman Mailer

In what is arguably his greatest book, written in 1979, America’s most heroically ambitious writer follows the short, blighted career of Gary Gilmore, an intractably violent product of America’s prisons who—after robbing two men and killing them in cold blood—insisted on dying for his crime. To do so, he had to fight a system that seemed intent on keeping him alive long after it had sentenced him to death.

Norman Mailer tells Gilmore’s story—and those of the men and women caught up in his procession toward the firing squad—with implacable authority, steely compassion, and a restraint that evokes the parched landscapes and stern theology of Gilmore’s Utah.

The Executioner’s Song is a towering achievement, impossible to put down, impossible to forget.

Book:The Color Purple

The Color Purple

Alice Walker

Celie is a poor black woman whose letters tell the story of 20 years of her life, beginning at age 14 when she is being abused and raped by her father and attempting to protect her sister from the same fate, and continuing over the course of her marriage to “Mister,” a brutal man who terrorizes her. Celie eventually learns that her abusive husband has been keeping her sister’s letters from her and the rage she feels, combined with an example of love and independence provided by her close friend Shug, pushes her finally toward an awakening of her creative and loving self.

Book:The Joy Luck Club: A Novel

The Joy Luck Club: A Novel

Amy Tan

In 1949 four Chinese women-drawn together by the shadow of their past-begin meeting in San Francisco to play mah jong, invest in stocks, eat dim sum, and “say” stories. They call their gathering the Joy Luck Club. Nearly forty years later, one of the members has died, and her daughter has come to take her place, only to learn of her mother’s lifelong wish-and the tragic way in which it has come true. The revelation of this secret unleashes an urgent need among the women to reach back and remember…

In this extraordinary first work of fiction, Amy Tan writes about what is lost-over the years, between generations, among friends-and what is saved.

Book:Libra

Libra

Don DeLillo

In this powerful, eerily convincing fictional speculation on the assassination of John F. Kennedy, Don Delillo chronicles Lee Harvey Oswald’s odyssey from troubled teenager to a man of precarious stability who imagines himself an agent of history. When “history” presents itself in the form of two disgruntled CIA operatives who decide that an unsuccessful attempt on the life of the president will galvanize the nation against communism, the scales are irrevocably tipped.

A gripping, masterful blend of fact and fiction, alive with meticulously portrayed characters both real and created, Libra is a grave, haunting, and brilliant examination of an event that has become an indelible part of the American psyche.

Book:Housekeeping

Housekeeping: A Novel

Marilynne Robinson

A modern classic, Housekeeping is the story of Ruth and her younger sister, Lucille, who grow up haphazardly, first under the care of their competent grandmother, then of two comically bumbling great-aunts, and finally of Sylvie, their eccentric and remote aunt. The family house is in the small Far West town of Fingerbone set on a glacial lake, the same lake where their grandfather died in a spectacular train wreck, and their mother drove off a cliff to her death. It is a town “chastened by an outsized landscape and extravagant weather, and chastened again by an awareness that the whole of human history had occurred elsewhere.” Ruth and Lucille’s struggle toward adulthood beautifully illuminates the price of loss and survival, and the dangerous and deep undertow of transience.

Book:Shiloh and Other Stories

Shiloh and Other Stories

Bobbie Ann Mason

“These stories will last,” said Raymond Carver of Shiloh and Other Stories when it was first published, and almost two decades later this stunning fiction debut and winner of the PEN/Hemingway Award has become a modern American classic. In “Shiloh”, Bobbie Ann Mason introduces us to her western Kentucky people and the lives they forge for themselves amid the ups and downs of contemporary American life, and she poignantly captures the growing pains of the New South in the lives of her characters as they come to terms with feminism, R-rated movies, and video games.

“Bobbie Ann Mason is one of those rare writers who, by concentrating their attention on a few square miles of native turf, are able to open up new and surprisingly wide worlds for the delighted reader,” said Robert Towers in The New York Review of Books.

Book:Ellis Island and Other Stories

Ellis Island and Other Stories

Mark Helprin

Marshall Pearl is orphaned at birth aboard an illegal immigrant ship off the coast of Palestine in 1947 and brought as an infant to America. Determined to see the world in its beauty, ferocity, and ultimate justice, he does so, in scenes of gorgeous color and great excitement, as a child in the Hudson Valley, fighting the Rastafarians in Jamaica, at Harvard, in a slaughterhouse on the Great Plains, in the Mexican desert, on the sea, and in the Alps. Finally, he is drawn to Israel to confront the logic of his birth in a crucible of war, magic, suffering, and grace. At the opening of the book, he is one of the dying wounded being transported to Haifa during the 1973 War. We follow him as he dreams, reconstructing his life, until, by the strength of what he has learned, suffered, and hoped, Marshall Pearl rises.

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