Honor roll: PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction

Each of these books has been nominated for a PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction. They are ranked by honors received.

Book:A Visit From the Goon Squad

A Visit From the Goon Squad

Jennifer Egan

Jennifer Egan’s spellbinding interlocking narratives circle the lives of Bennie Salazar, an aging former punk rocker and record executive, and Sasha, the passionate, troubled young woman he employs. Although Bennie and Sasha never discover each other’s pasts, the reader does, in intimate detail, along with the secret lives of a host of other characters whose paths intersect with theirs, over many years, in locales as varied as New York, San Francisco, Naples, and Africa.

We first meet Sasha in her mid-thirties, on her therapist’s couch in New York City, confronting her long-standing compulsion to steal. Later, we learn the genesis of her turmoil when we see her as the child of a violent marriage, then as a runaway living in Naples, then as a college student trying to avert the suicidal impulses of her best friend. We plunge into the hidden yearnings and disappointments of her uncle, an art historian stuck in a dead marriage, who travels to Naples to extract Sasha from…[more]

Book:The Buddha in the Attic

The Buddha in the Attic: A Novel

Julie Otsuka

Julie Otsuka’s long awaited follow-up to When the Emperor Was Divine is a tour de force of economy and precision, a novel that tells the story of a group of young women brought over from Japan to San Francisco as ‘picture brides’ nearly a century ago.

In eight incantatory sections, The Buddha in the Attic traces their extraordinary lives, from their arduous journey by boat, where they exchange photographs of their husbands, imagining uncertain futures in an unknown land; to their arrival in San Francisco and their tremulous first nights as new wives; to their backbreaking work picking fruit in the fields and scrubbing the floors of white women; to their struggles to master a new language and a new culture; to their experiences in childbirth, and then as mothers, raising children who will ultimately reject their heritage and their history; to the deracinating arrival of war.

In language that has the force and the fury of poetry, Julie Otsuka has written a singularly spellbinding novel about the American dream. 

Book:The Lacuna

The Lacuna: A Novel

Barbara Kingsolver

In her most accomplished novel, Barbara Kingsolver takes us on an epic journey from the Mexico City of artists Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo to the America of Pearl Harbor, FDR, and J. Edgar Hoover. The Lacuna is a poignant story of a man pulled between two nations as they invent their modern identities.

Born in the United States, reared in a series of provisional households in Mexico—from a coastal island jungle to 1930s Mexico City—Harrison Shepherd finds precarious shelter but no sense of home on his thrilling odyssey. Life is whatever he learns from housekeepers who put him to work in the kitchen, errands he runs in the streets, and one fateful day, by mixing plaster for famed Mexican muralist Diego Rivera. He discovers a passion for Aztec history and meets the exotic, imperious artist Frida Kahlo, who will become his lifelong friend. When he goes to work for Lev Trotsky, an exiled political leader fighting for his life, Shepherd…[more]

Book:Lord of Misrule

Lord of Misrule: A Novel

Jaimy Gordon

Thoroughbred horse trainer Tommy Hansel has a scheme to rescue his failing operation by shipping four unclassed horses to Indian Mound Downs, run them in cheap claimers at long odds, and then get out fast before anyone notices. The problem is, at this rundown riverfront half-mile racetrack in the West Virginia panhandle, everybody notices from the start—Kidstuff the farrier, track super Smithers, an old groom Medicine Ed, gypsy owner Deucey Gifford, eventually even the ruled-off bookmaker Two-Tie, and an ominous trainer, Joe Dale Bigg. But no-one factors in Hansel’s go-for girlfriend, Margaret Koderer. Much like the beautiful, used-up, tragic creatures she comes to love, Maggie is almost a force of nature, an adventuress with enough personal magnetism to spin everyone’s sure thing right back to the source of all luck.

Lord of Misrule is a darkly realistic novel about a young woman living through a year of horse racing while everyone’s best laid plans go brutally wrong. With her first novel since her acclaimed Bogeywoman, Jaimy Gordon bears comparison to other great writers of the American demimonde, such as Nathanael West, Damon Runyon, and Eudora Welty.

Book:A Gate at the Stairs

A Gate at the Stairs: A Novel

Lorrie Moore

In her dazzling new novel—her first in more than a decade—Moore turns her eye on the anxiety and disconnection of post-9/11 America, on the insidiousness of racism, the blind-sidedness of war, and the recklessness thrust on others in the name of love.

As the United States begins gearing up for war in the Middle East, twenty-year-old Tassie Keltjin, the Midwestern daughter of a gentleman hill farmer—his “Keltjin potatoes” are justifiably famous—has come to a university town as a college student, her brain on fire with Chaucer, Sylvia Plath, Simone de Beauvoir.

Between semesters, she takes a job as a part-time nanny.

The family she works for seems both mysterious and glamorous to her, and although Tassie had once found children boring,…[more]

Book:Everything Begins & Ends at the Kentucky Club

Everything Begins & Ends at the Kentucky Club

Benjamin Alire Sáenz

Benjamin Alire Sáenz’s stories reveal how all borders—real, imagined, sexual, human, the line between dark and light, addict and straight—entangle those who live on either side. Take, for instance, the Kentucky Club on Avenida Juárez two blocks south of the Rio Grande. It’s a touchstone for each of Sáenz’s stories. His characters walk by, they might go in for a drink or to score, or they might just stay there for a while and let their story be told. Sáenz knows that the Kentucky Club, like special watering holes in all cities, is the contrary to borders. It welcomes Spanish and English, Mexicans and gringos, poor and rich, gay and straight, drug addicts and drunks, laughter and sadness, and even despair. It’s a place of rich history and good drinks and cold beer and a long polished mahogany bar. Some days it smells like piss. “I’m going home to the other side.” That’s a strange statement, but you hear it all the time at the Kentucky Club.

Book:The Collected Stories of Deborah Eisenberg

The Collected Stories of Deborah Eisenberg

Deborah Eisenberg

Since 1986 with the publication of her first story collection, Deborah Eisenberg has devoted herself to writing “exquisitely distilled stories” which “present an unusually distinctive portrait of contemporary American life” to quote the MacArthur Foundation. This one volume brings together Transactions in a Foreign Currency (1986), Under the 82nd Airborne (1992), All Around Atlantis (1997) and her most recent collection—Twilight of the Superheroes (2006).

Book:War Dances

War Dances

Sherman Alexie

Fresh off his National Book Award win, Alexie delivers a heartbreaking, hilarious collection of stories that explores the precarious balance between self-preservation and external responsibility in art, family, and the world at large.

With unparalleled insight into the minds of artists, laborers, fathers, husbands, and sons, Alexie populates his stories with ordinary men on the brink of exceptional change. In a bicoastal journey through the consequences of both simple and monumental life choices, Alexie introduces us to personal worlds as they transform beyond return. In the title story, a famous writer must decide how to care for his distant father who is slowly dying a “natural Indian death” from alcohol and diabetes, just as he learns that he himself may have a brain tumor. Alexie dissects a vintage-clothing store owner’s failing marriage and his courtship of a married photographer in various airports across the country; what happens when a politician’s son commits a hate crime; and how a young boy discovers his self-worth while writing obituaries for his local newspaper.

Brazen and wise War Dances takes us to the heart of what it means to be human. The new beginnings, successes, mistakes, and regrets that make up our daily lives are laid bare in this wide-ranging new work that is quintessential Alexie.

Book:Hold it 'Til It Hurts

Hold it 'Til It Hurts: A Novel

T. Geronimo Johnson

When Achilles Conroy and his brother Troy return from a tour of duty in Afghanistan, their white mother presents them with the key to their past: envelopes containing details about their respective birth parents. After Troy disappears, Achilles—always his brother’s keeper—embarks on a harrowing journey in search of Troy, an experience that will change him forever.

Heartbreaking, intimate, and at times disturbing, Hold It ’Til It Hurts is a modern-day odyssey through war, adventure, disaster, and love, and explores how people who do not define themselves by race make sense of a world that does.

Book:Kind One (Laird Hunt)

Kind One: A Novel

Laird Hunt

As a teenage girl, Ginny marries Linus Lancaster, her mother’s second cousin, and moves to his Kentucky pig farm “ninety miles from nowhere.” In the shadows of the lush Kentucky landscape, Ginny discovers the empty promises of Linus’ “paradise”—a place where the charms of her husband fall away to reveal a troubled man and cruel slave owner. Ginny befriends the young slaves Cleome and Zinnia who work at the farm—until Linus’ attentions turn to them, and she finds herself torn between her husband and only companions. The events that follow Linus’ death change all three women for life.

Haunting, chilling, and suspenseful, Kind One is a powerful tale of redemption and human endurance in antebellum America.

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