The PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction 2013 Shortlist

Pen_Faulkner

It’s a busy time for literary prizes.  Today the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction unveiled its shortlist of five contenders.  If you’re unfamilar with the prize, it’s described as followed on their official web site:

The PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction is a national prize that honors outstanding works of fiction by American writers each year. Three judges, chosen annually by the directors of the PEN/Faulkner Foundation, select five books from among the more than 300 submitted works, making this the largest peer-juried award in the country. This year’s judges were Marita Golden, Maureen Howard, and Steve Yarbrough.

Past winners include Don DeLillo (Mao II), Philip Roth (three times for Everyman, The Human Stain, Operation Shylock), Ann Patchett (Bel Canto), and Ha Jin (twice for War Trash, Waiting.) This year’s winner will be announced on May 4th.  Below you’ll find a brief description of each of the five finalists along with links to deeper reviews where applicable.


threats_ameliagrayThreats
By Amelia Gray

David’s wife is dead. At least, he thinks she’s dead. But he can’t figure out what killed her or why she had to die, and his efforts to sort out what’s happened have been interrupted by his discovery of a series of elaborate and escalating threats hidden in strange places around his home—one buried in the sugar bag, another carved into the side of his television. These disturbing threats may be the best clues to his wife’s death:

CURL UP ON MY LAP. LET ME BRUSH YOUR HAIR WITH MY FINGERS. I AM SINGING YOU A LULLABY. I AM TESTING FOR STRUCTURAL WEAKNESS IN YOUR SKULL.

Detective Chico is also on the case, and is intent on asking David questions he doesn’t know the answers to and introducing him to people who don’t appear to have David’s or his wife’s best interests in mind. With no one to trust, David is forced to rely on his own memories and faculties—but they too are proving unreliable.

In THREATS, Amelia Gray builds a world that is bizarre yet familiar, violent yet tender. It is an electrifying story of love and loss that grabs you on the first page and never loosens its grip.  (from the hardcover edition)


Kind_OneKind One
By 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.

Laird Hunt is the author of several works of fiction and a finalist for the 2010 PEN Center USA Award in Fiction. Currently on the faculty of the University of Denver’s creative writing program, he and his wife, the poet Eleni Sikelianos, live in Boulder, Colorado, with their daughter, Eva Grace.  (From the hardcover edition)


Hold_It_Til_It_HurtsHold it ‘Til it Hurts
By 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.

T. Geronimo Johnson was born in New Orleans, Louisiana. His fiction and poetry have appeared in Best New American VoicesIndiana ReviewLos Angeles Review of Books, and Illuminations, among others. A graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and a former Stegner Fellow at Stanford University, Johnson teaches writing at the University of California-Berkeley. Hold It ‘Til It Hurts is his first book.  (from the hardcover edition)


WatergateWatergate
By Thomas Mallon

From one of our most esteemed historical novelists, a remarkable retelling of the Watergate scandal, as seen through a kaleidoscope of its colorful perpetrators and investigators.

For all the monumental documentation that Watergate generated–uncountable volumes of committee records, court transcripts, and memoirs–it falls at last to a novelist to perform the work of inference (and invention) that allows us to solve some of the scandal’s greatest mysteries (who did erase those eighteen-and-a-half minutes of tape?) and to see this gaudy American catastrophe in its human entirety.

In Watergate, Thomas Mallon conveys the drama and high comedy of the Nixon presidency through the urgent perspectives of seven characters we only thought we knew before now, moving readers from the private cabins of Camp David to the klieg lights of the Senate Caucus Room, from the District of Columbia jail to the Dupont Circle mansion of Theodore Roosevelt’s sharp-tongued ninety-year-old daughter (“The clock is dick-dick-dicking”), and into the hive of the Watergate complex itself, home not only to the Democratic National Committee but also to the president’s attorney general, his recklessly loyal secretary, and the shadowy man from Mississippi who pays out hush money to the burglars.

Praised by Christopher Hitchens for his “splendid evocation of Washington,” Mallon achieves with Watergate a scope and historical intimacy that surpasses even what he attained in his previous novels, as he turns a “third-rate burglary” into a tumultuous, first-rate entertainment.  (from the hardcover edition)


Everything_Begins_Ends_At_The_Kentucky_ClubEverything Begins & Ends at the Kentucky Club
By 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.

Benjamin Alire Sáenz is a highly regarded writer of fiction, poetry, and children’s literature. Like these stories, his writing crosses borders and lands in our collective psyche. Poets & Writers Magazine named him one of the fifty most inspiring writers in the world. He’s been a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize and PEN Center’s prestigious award for young adult fiction. Sáenz is the chair of the creative writing department of University of Texas at El Paso.  (from the hardcover edition)


Have you read any of the five finalists for the 2013 Pen/Faulker Award for fiction?Comment below and let us know which titles to read, and which to avoid.

About Aaron Westerman

Aaron Westerman is the Manager of Web Architecture for a national human services organization. When he's not busy tearing sites apart and rebuilding them, he spends his ever shrinking free time trying to keep up with his twins, reading works of translated literature, and watching far too many Oscar nominated movies.