Tuesday, March 11, 2014

2014 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction Finalists

Another day, another book prize announcement, this time from the PEN/Faulkner foundation. The annual PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction recognizes the "the year’s best published works of fiction by American citizens". It's an award that gets slightly less hype in Canada than other big US fiction awards like the National Book Award or the Pulitzer Prizes for Fiction, but it's another great source for finding quality books to add to your To Be Read pile.

Here are this year's finalists: the winner will be announced on April 2nd.

Daniel Alarc√≥n for At Night We Walk in Circles (M).

The PEN/Faulkner Foundation describes this book as "a mystery, a character study, and a political parable exploring the nature of art, love, language and the distorting effects of war". From the publisher: "Nelson's life is not turning out the way he hoped. His girlfriend is sleeping with another man, his brother has left their South American country and moved to the United States, leaving Nelson to care for their widowed mother, and his acting career can't seem to get off the ground. That is, until he lands a starring role in a touring revival of The Idiot President, a legendary play by Nelson's hero, Henry Nunez, leader of the storied guerrilla theater troupe Diciembre. And that's when the real trouble begins."

Percival Everett for Percival Everett by Virgil Russell: a novel (M). 

Everett is a prolific and celebrated American writer but, despite that, far from what you would call a household name. The inclusion of the author's own name in the title of his new book gives a hint at the author's style which contains "elements of satire, metafiction, and odd variations on genre cliches."(Novelist) We've mentioned Everett in a few past posts on the Reader, including suggesting him as an author to read for fans of Colson Whitehead. Here's hoping this award nod will start to bring him the popular attention he deserves. From the publisher: "A story inside a story inside a story. A man visits his aging father in a nursing home, where his father writes the novel he imagines his son would write. Or is it the novel that the son imagines his father would imagine, if he were to imagine the kind of novel the son would write?"

Karen Joy Fowler for We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves (M). 

From the publisher: "Coming of age in middle America, eighteen-year-old Rosemary evaluates how her entire youth was defined by the presence and forced removal of an endearing chimpanzee who was secretly regarded as a family member and who Rosemary loved as a sister." It's a unique take on a tale of family bereavement. In describing the book, the PEN/Faulkner Foundation quoted a review from Barbara Kingsolver in the New York Times, who said “so readably juicy and surreptitiously smart, it deserves all the attention it can get […] Fowler is a trustworthy guide through many complex territories.”

Joan Silber for Fools (M).

A book of interconnected stories set in the past and present offer a timely examination of idealism, or as the PEN/Faulkner foundation summarized it "six interconnected stories featuring characters walking the line between wisdom and foolishness". In a starred review, BookList commented on the collection's subtlety and said the author "deftly handles a variety of time periods and places ... and creates a memorable meditation on work, religion, love, and the search for personal integrity."

Valerie Trueblood for Search Party: stories of rescue (M).

Although the publisher described this collection simply as "thirteen intertwined short stories that feature characters who are each searching for something." the PEN/Faulkner Foundation was much more effusive, saying the book "plumbs the nature of loss and need with 13 stories that surprise in their perspectives on what it means to search and who is in need of rescue. Sometimes brief and consistently revelatory, these stories burrow deep into a range of psyches..." (M)

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