The National Book Award finalists in fiction for 2008 were announced last week and, per tradition, I ran right out to a Boston bookstore to snatch up a few. The goal: to have all five read before Nov. 19 when the winner is revealed. Below are snippets on each of the five finalists. Peter Matthiessen ("At Play in the Fields of the Lords" -- 1976) is the only author among the group to have been nominated previously. His latest work is a 900-page whopper. Marilynne Robinson won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction a few years ago with "Gilead." But I'm starting things off with "The End."
If you want to see last week's announcement, made by author Scott Turow, go to this link: http://www.nationalbook.org/
TELEX FROM CUBA (Rachel Kushner) -- "Kushner has written an astonishingly wise, ambitious, and riveting novel set in the American community in Cuba during the years leading up to Castro's revolution—a place that was a paradise for a time and for a few. The first Novel to tell the story of the Americans who were driven out in 1958, this is a masterful debut.
THE LAZARUS PROJECT (Aleksandar Hemon) "In two collections of stories, The Question of Bruno and the NBCC-finalist Nowhere Man, Aleksandar Hemon has earned unmatched literary acclaim and a reputation as one of the English language's most original and moving wordsmiths. In The Lazarus Project, Hemon has turned these talents to an embracing novel that intertwines haunting historical atmosphere and detail with sharp and shimmering—sometimes hilarious, sometimes heartbreaking—contemporary storytelling."
SHADOW COUNTRY (Peter Matthiessen) -- "Matthiessen’s great American epic–Killing Mister Watson, Lost Man’s River, and Bone by Bone–was conceived as one vast mysterious novel, but because of its length it was originally broken up into three books. In this bold new rendering, Matthiessen has cut nearly a third of the overall text and collapsed the time frame while deepening the insights and motivations of his characters with brilliant rewriting throughout. In Shadow Country, he has marvelously distilled a monumental work, realizing his original vision. Inspired by a near-mythic event of the wild Florida frontier at the turn of the twentieth century, Shadow Country reimagines the legend of the inspired Everglades sugar planter and notorious outlaw E. J. Watson, who drives himself relentlessly toward his own violent end at the hands of neighbors who mostly admired him, in a killing that obsessed his favorite son.
HOME (Marilynne Robinson) -- "Hundreds of thousands were enthralled by the luminous voice of John Ames in Gilead, Marilynne Robinson’s Pulitzer Prize–winning novel. Home is an entirely independent, deeply affecting novel that takes place concurrently in the same locale, this time in the household of Reverend Robert Boughton, Ames’s closest friend."
THE END (Salvatore Scibona) -- "A brilliant debut novel about a single day in 1953 as lived by six people at an ohio carnival. A small, incongruous man receives an excruciating piece of news. His son has died in a POW camp in Korea. It is August 15, 1953, the day of a tumultuous street carnival in Elephant Park, an Italian immigrant enclave in Ohio. The man is Rocco LaGrassa, and his many years of dogged labor, paternal devotion, and steadfast Christian faith are about to come to a crashing end. He is the first of many exquisitely drawn characters we meet that day, each of whom will come to their own conclusion.The End follows an elderly abortionist, an enigmatic drapery seamstress, a teenage boy, a jeweler—dramatically into the heart of a crime that will twist all their lives."