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Malcolm R. Campbell's World

Book Bits: National Book Award Fiction Finalists Overview

BookBitsThe 2013 National Book Awards finalists were announced October 13. The awards, worth $10,000 for winners and $1,000 for finalists, will be presented in New York at a ceremony next month. Here are the finalists for fiction:

  • Rachel Kushner, The Flamethrowers (Scribner/Simon & Schuster)
  • Jhumpa Lahiri, The Lowland (Alfred A. Knopf/Random House)
  • James McBride, The Good Lord Bird (Riverhead Books/Penguin Group USA)
  • Thomas Pynchon, Bleeding Edge (The Penguin Press/Penguin Group USA)
  • George Saunders, Tenth of December (Random House)

The Flamethowers

flamethrowersFrom the PublisherRachel Kushner’s first novel, “Telex from Cuba,” was nominated for a National Book Award and reviewed on the cover of The New York Times Book Review. Her second novel, even more ambitious and brilliant, is the riveting story of a young artist and the worlds she encounters in New York and Rome in the mid-1970s—by turns underground, elite, and dangerous.

From the New Yorker: “Rachel Kushner’s second novel, ‘The Flamethrowers’ (Scribner), is scintillatingly alive, and also alive to artifice. It ripples with stories, anecdotes, set-piece monologues, crafty egotistical tall tales, and hapless adventures: Kushner is never not telling a story. It is nominally a historical novel (it’s set in the mid-seventies), and, I suppose, also a realist one (it works within the traditional grammar of verisimilitude). But it manifests itself as a pure explosion of now: it catches us in its mobile, flashing present, which is the living reality it conjures on the page at the moment we are reading.” – James Wood

The Lowland

lowlandFrom the PublisherFrom the Pulitzer Prize-winning, best-selling author of The Namesake comes an extraordinary new novel, set in both India and America, that expands the scope and range of one of our most dazzling storytellers: a tale of two brothers bound by tragedy, a fiercely brilliant woman haunted by her past, a country torn by revolution, and a love that lasts long past death.

From NPR: “Geography is destiny in Jhumpa Lahiri’s new novel, ‘The Lowland.’ Her title refers to a marshy stretch of land between two ponds in a Calcutta neighborhood where two very close brothers grow up. In monsoon season, the marsh floods and the ponds combine; in summer, the floodwater evaporates. You don’t need your decoder ring to figure out that the two ponds symbolize the two brothers…’The Lowland’ is buoyantly ambitious in both its story (I’ve only summarized the first quarter of the novel here) and its form.  — at times separate; at other times inseparable.” – Maureen Corrigan

The Good Lord Bird

goodlordbirdFrom the Publisher:  From the bestselling author of The Color of Water and Song Yet Sung comes the story of a young boy born a slave who joins John Brown’s antislavery crusade—and who must pass as a girl to survive…An absorbing mixture of history and imagination, and told with McBride’s meticulous eye for detail and character, “The Good Lord Bird” is both a rousing adventure and a moving exploration of identity and survival.

From the New York Times: “Cconsider two things about ‘The Good Lord Bird”’— and by extension, today’s saucy approach to race and history. First, for all his play, McBride studiously honors history, perhaps more than many previous portraits of Brown have done…Second, ‘The Good Lord Bird’ is not, in the end, a roast of John Brown. Quite the contrary. As we reach the novel’s final pages, after we are reminded that his crusade was a key trigger for the Civil War, we meet Brown behind bars, fulminating and sermonizing to the bitter end. And suddenly we realize we’ve fallen hard for the man: a special breed, like the bird in the title — so rare and remarkable that when people laid eyes on it, all they could utter was ‘Good Lord!’”  – Baz Dreisinger

Bleeding Edge

bleedingedgeFrom the Publisher: With occasional excursions into the DeepWeb and out to Long Island, Thomas Pynchon, channeling his inner Jewish mother, brings us a historical romance of New York in the early days of the internet, not that distant in calendar time but galactically remote from where we’ve journeyed to since. Will perpetrators be revealed, forget about brought to justice? Will Maxine have to take the handgun out of her purse? Will she and Horst get back together? Will Jerry Seinfeld make an unscheduled guest appearance? Will accounts secular and karmic be brought into balance? Hey. Who wants to know?

From Kirkus Reviews: Pynchon (Inherent Vice, 2009, etc.) makes a much-anticipated return, and it’s trademark stuff: a blend of existential angst, goofy humor and broad-sweeping bad vibes…Of a piece with Pynchon’s recent work—not quite a classic à la “V.” but in a class of its own—more tightly woven but no less madcap than “Inherent Vice,” and sure to the last that we live in a world of very odd shadows.

Tenth of December

tenthofdecemberFrom the Publisher: One of the most important and blazingly original writers of his generation, George Saunders is an undisputed master of the short story, and Tenth of December is his most honest, accessible, and moving collection yet…Writing brilliantly and profoundly about class, sex, love, loss, work, despair, and war, Saunders cuts to the core of the contemporary experience. These stories take on the big questions and explore the fault lines of our own morality, delving into the questions of what makes us good and what makes us human.

From the New York Times: “In ‘Tenth of December,’ [Saunders] fourth and best collection, readers will encounter an abduction, a rape, a chemically induced suicide, the suppressed rage of a milquetoast or two, a veteran’s post-­traumatic impulse to burn down his mother’s house — all of it buffeted by gusts of such merriment and tender regard and daffy good cheer that you realize only in retrospect how dark these morality tales really are. And ‘Tenth of December’ is very dark indeed, particularly in its consideration of class and power.” – Gregory Coles

“Book Bits” is compiled by Malcolm R. Campbell, author of the dark contemporary fantasy “The Seeker”  and “The Sailor.”

seekersailorcover

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