Thursday, February 26, 2009

O'Neill's Netherland wins 2009 PEN/Faulkner

The following release was issued today by PEN/Faulkner:

Joseph O’Neill’s novel Netherland (Pantheon Books) has been selected as the winner of the 2009 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction. The announcement is being made today by the directors of the PEN/Faulkner Foundation, Susan Richards Shreve and Robert Stone, Co-Chairmen.

Four Finalists were also named. They are Sarah Shun-Lien Bynum for Ms. Hempel Chronicles (Harcourt); Susan Choi for A Person of Interest (Viking); Richard Price for Lush Life (Farrar, Straus and Giroux); and Ron Rash for Serena (Ecco).

The JudgesLee K. Abbott, Randall Kenan, and Antonya Nelson—considered close to 350 novels and short story collections by American authors published in the US during the 2008 calendar year. Submissions came from over 70 publishing houses, including small and academic presses. There is no fee for a publisher to submit a book.

“Our choices were of a vast and robust variety,” writes PEN/Faulkner Judge, Antonya Nelson. “The historical novel is alive and well. The short story collection is alive and well. The crossover/transcending-genre novel is alive and well. The political novel is alive and well. Men and women, writing like geniuses, all alive and well.”

About the Award
Founded in 1980, the PEN/Faulkner Award is the largest peer-juried prize for fiction in the United States. As winner, O’Neill receives $15,000. Each of the four finalists receives $5,000.

In a ceremony that celebrates the winner as “first among equals,” all five authors will be honored during the 29th annual PEN/Faulkner Award ceremony on Saturday, May 9 at 7 pm at Folger Shakespeare Library, located at 201 East Capitol Street, SE, Washington, DC. Tickets are $100, and include the award ceremony followed by a buffet dinner. They can be purchased by phoning the Folger Box Office at (202) 544-7077 or online at

About the Winner
Praised for its richly accomplished prose and articulate portraits of characters in New York, Netherland is a novel which also examines the varying moods of its protagonist’s interior life—and passion for playing cricket. Hans van der Broek, the Dutch-born narrator of O’Neill’s meditative narrative, is dislodged along with his wife Rachel and young son Jake, from their downtown Manhattan apartment in the aftermath of September 11, 2001. The family who had moved to New York from London becomes temporary residents of the Chelsea Hotel, one among a series of fantastically colorful, off-kilter locales in the book. Fearing another imminent calamity and disillusioned with her marriage, Rachel returns to London with their son, leaving “a city gone mad” and a husband dazed with grief. “Life itself had become disembodied. My family, the spine of my days, had crumbled. I was lost in invertebrate time.” Hans’s life in the aftermath is lived within convention (he is an equities analyst for a large merchant bank) but also as a seemingly destinationless journey, accompanied often by his fellow cricket enthusiast and companion Chuck Ramkissoon.

A Trinidadian immigrant of boundless enthusiasm, Chuck is an enterprising businessman whose endeavors include illegal gambling/gaming. Beautifully rendered scenes describe the game of cricket and its community of players, largely West Indian and Asian. As an √©migr√© who grew up playing cricket in the Hague, Hans is welcomed into this community devoted to the sport, its ethics, and the conviction of cricket’s rightful place as an original American sport. But in as much as this novel explores the immigrant’s possibility of grasping an American dream—Chuck’s beloved project is to transform the fallow Floyd Bennett Field airport grounds into a world-class cricket arena dubbed “Bald Eagle Field”—it also opens with the discovery of Ramkissoon’s corpse floating in the Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn. In resonant prose, Netherland explores time, memory, separation and reunion.

“The thing that struck me so deeply about Netherland,” writes PEN/Faulkner Judge, Randall Kenan, “is how much it is about the new and continuing immigrant story, about New Americans and the making of new American traditions, which has always been New York’s function in the world. O’Neill has created a powerfully entertaining novel, but also a new emblem for our time.”

Joseph O’Neill is the author of two previous novels, This Is the Life, and The Breezes, as well as the family history, Blood-Dark Track, which was a New York Times Notable book. He is a regular contributor to the Atlantic Monthly and lives in New York City with his family.

About the Finalists

Ms. Hempel Chronicles is a novel-in-stories by Sarah Shun-Lien Bynum, whose first novel, Madeleine Is Sleeping, was a National Book Award finalist. The eight gem-like chapters of this novel combine to illuminate the story of Beatrice Hempel, a young seventh grade teacher, engaged to be married and new both to teaching and to her school. Vivid scenes of Ms. Hempel’s students capture their passionate idiosyncrasies, while the universal dramas and foibles of early adolescence are rendered with humor and empathy. Interspersed within the storyline are chapters in flashback to Beatrice’s own childhood and family relationships. Writing for the Christian Science Monitor, Heller McAlpin notes, “Bynum’s Ms Hempel Chronicles is not only…about a young 7th-grade teacher navigating the final passage to her own adulthood even as she ushers her students through the tricky narrows of adolescence; it is also a testament to how hard—and important—the work of teaching is.” Director of the writing program at the University of California, San Diego, Ms. Bynum lives in Los Angeles with her family.

In A Person of Interest, Susan Choi has created a protagonist as absorbing as he is unlikely within a plot that is pulsed with the nervy speed of a mystery, and the leisurely unfolding of interior psychological drama. Professor Lee is a cynical and reclusive math professor in a quiet Midwestern university. The novel opens as a bomb explodes in the office next door. The packaged bomb sent by mail kills Lee’s much younger, talented colleague, Dr. Hendley, a brilliant computer scientist. Choi’s earlier, second novel, American Woman, a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, took as its subject the kidnapping of Patty Hearst. A Person of Interest draws loosely upon account of Ted Kaczynski, the Unabomber, though only as a jumping off point. The tense story which develops here involves the F.B.I.’s progressive investigation of Lee as a person of interest. Yet if mystery compels readers forward, it is the story of Lee and his domestic ruins portrayed in Choi’s flawless writing that mesmerizes us. “Choi’s readers may find themselves considering the odd happiness with which they look forward to spending hundreds of pages in the company of this cranky old man. Lonely, alcoholic, slovenly,” writes Francine Prose for the New York Times. Recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Guggenheim Foundation, Susan Choi lives in Brooklyn, New York with her family.

Preoccupations with place and time feature prominently in Lush Life the eighth book by novelist and screen writer Richard Price. This is contemporary New York City as well, but the Lower East Side, a district Price delineates in the midst of cultural transition and monitored by the “quality of life squads” charged with guarding urban development while policing the poor and immigrant residents who’ve lived there for generations. Yet there is “one sort of room at the city’s very core,” writes Walter Kirn, in his March 2008 review, that “resists much gentrification of the soul, let alone beautification of the hair.” The tension between old and new, surface transformation and the inevitability of stasis undergird Price’s masterfully realized literary noir novel. Its protagonist, Eric Cash, is heir to this neighborhood and its newer, improved architecture. An aspiring writer and actor, he supports himself by day as a restaurant manager. One night, Eric, his boss, and a friend are held up at gunpoint. His boss mouths off and is shot, launching the novel’s complex story of investigation, social scrutiny, and meticulous interior examination. Kirn calls Price a “consummate stalker-realist who seems to have written the book from stoops and doorways.”

A Finalist for the 2008 PEN/Faulkner Award with his collection, Chemistry and Other Stories, Ron Rash is honored for a second year in a row for Serena, his fourth novel. A scathing critique of the Depression era logging industry in North Carolina, Serena tells the story of its ruthless heroine Serena Pemberton and her husband George, timber barons who strip the land and its inhabitants with rogue ambition. A woman of near epic strength, Serena rides an Arabian stallion, trains a bald eagle, and ruins the lives of anyone who interferes with the advancement of the Pemberton timber empire. The violent conflict between Serena, the illegitimate son her husband earlier fathered, and the child’s mother serves as a focal metaphor for the novel’s larger explorations of violence, passion, and greed. Rash is the winner of numerous honors, including the Novello Literary Award, the Appalachian Book of the Year Award, and the Southern Book Award. He is currently the Parris Distinguished Professor of Appalachian Studies at Western Carolina University

About these five remarkable books, Judge Lee K. Abbott writes, “I am struck by the fact that these books are as much about their language as they are about their events. I am heartened by style unique to tale. With some writers—too many, I fear—you can always see them at the keyboard, their presence standing between me as a reader and story. With O’Neill, Bynum, Choi, Price, and Rash, what is foregrounded is the yarn itself and the language necessary to it. I found all these books to be rousting, suspenseful and moving.”

The PEN/Faulkner Foundation is committed to building audiences for exceptional literature and bringing writers together with their readers. This mission is accomplished through a reading series at the Folger Shakespeare Library by distinguished writers who have won the respect of readers and writers alike; the PEN/Faulkner Award, the largest peer-juried award for fiction in the United States; the PEN/Malamud Award, honoring excellence in the short story; and the Writers in Schools program, which brings nationally and internationally-acclaimed authors to public high school classrooms in Washington, DC, Atlanta, and in Kansas City.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Film verison of Life of Pi proposed; Tolkien work to be published

Film director Ang Lee is in talks to produce a film version of Yann Martel's Life of Pi, according to Variety . . . Houghton Mifflin Harcourt has acquired the rights to an unpublished work written by J.R.R. Tolkien and has plans to release it on May 5, Publisher's Weekly reports. The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrun was written when Tolkien was a professor at Oxford in the '20s and '30s. It's an English retelling in narrative verse of some epic Norse tales . . . HarperCollins said in a release that it had acquired a biography of John Updike, to be written by Adam Begley, the books editor of The New York Observer.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

The Outlander a powerful and promising debut by Canadian author

16. The Outlander, Gil Adamson. Fiction, completed 2-4, p. 389

There are books that set you up for disappointment.

The writing is graceful, yet muscular, the characters are vivid and the narrative springs to life with a propulsive rhythm that makes reading joyful and as effortless as sliding across an icy pond. Yet, the ending rings hollow, as disappointing as socks for Christmas.

The Outlander, Gil Adamson's debut novel, is not one of those books. The writing, the characters and the narrative are all as described above. But the ending, the ending is a wonder. It's wholly unexpected yet fitting; delivering on the expectations promised in the novel’s opening pages.

A tale of a Canadian woman fleeing two implacable pursuers, The Outlander calls to mind Cold Mountain or Kent Haruf’s Plainsong. It is a powerful and promising debut.

City council bans apostrophes and thoughts on book covers

The Birmingham (England) City Council has banned apostrophes from street signs. Hmmh, I suppose signs with phonetic spellings only are next.

A nice post this morning in the Washington Post's Short Stack on book covers.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

An Excerpt From Michael Connelly's Next Novel, The Scarecrow

ImageJack McEvoy is at the end of the line as a crime reporter. Forced to take a buy-out from the Los Angeles Times as the newspaper grapples with dwindling revenues, he's got only a few days left on the job.

His last assignment? Training his replacement, a low-cost reporter just out of journalism school. But Jack has other plans for his exit. He is going to go out with a bang — a final story that will win the newspaper journalism's highest honor — a Pulitzer prize.

Jack focuses on Alonzo Winslow, a 16-year-old drug dealer from the projects who has confessed to police that he brutally raped and strangled one of his crack clients. Jack convinces Alonzo's mother to cooperate with his investigation into the possibility of her son's innocence.

But she has fallen for the oldest reporter's trick in the book. Jack's real intention is to use his access to report and write a story that explains how societal dysfunction and neglect created a 16-year-old killer.

As Jack delves into the story he soon realizes that Alonzo's so-called confession is bogus, and Jack is soon off and running on the biggest story he's had since The Poet crossed his path years before. He reunites with FBI Agent Rachel Walling to go after a killer who has worked completely below police and FBI radar—and with perfect knowledge of any move against him. What Jack doesn't know is that his investigation has inadvertently set off a digital tripwire. The killer knows Jack is coming—and he's ready.

The Scarecrow will be released in the UK, Australia and New Zealand May 12 and in the United States and Canada May 26. Connelly will be going on book tour in the UK and US in May.

Click here to read an excerpt from THE SCARECROW.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Update on January 2009 reading

8. Chief Bender’s Burden, Tom Swift. Baseball/Biography (finished)1-14 (pages) 290

9. Going After Cacciato, Tim O’Brien. Fiction 1-16 338

10. A Visible Darkness, Jonathon King. Mystery 1-17 243

11. Tales to Astonish. Jack Kirby, Stan Lee and the American

Comic Book Revolution, Ronin Ro. Non-Fiction 1-20 294

12. The Weather in Berlin, Ward Just. Fiction 1-21 305

13. The Ones You Do, Daniel Woodrell. Fiction 1-23 212

14. Truth & Beauty, Ann Patchett. Memoir 1-24 257

15. The Pickwick Papers, Charles Dickens. Fiction 1-31 801

A quick summary on these eight books:

Chief Bender’s Burden, Tom Swift. I didn't know much about Chief Bender. Now I do. Swift's prose is pedestrian. This book was good, but not great.

Going After Cacciato, Tim O’Brien. I like Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried much, much more than Going After Cacciato. But I understand the appeal of fleeing the war for Paris.

A Visible Darkness, Jonathon King. This is the second book I've read in Jonathon King's series set in the Everglades. I like it. It's light, but diverting.

The Weather in Berlin, Ward Just. Not one of Just's best books. Hooked me near the end, but I was a long time getting there.

Tales to Astonish. Jack Kirby, Stan Lee and the American Comic Book Revolution, Ronin Ro. I thoroughly enjoyed Ro's biography of King Kirby and his contributions to comics.

The Ones You Do, Daniel Woodrell. I was disappointed with the conclusion to this book, but I had fun getting there.

Truth & Beauty, Ann Patchett. Can you say co-dependent? I love Ann Patchett's novels, this book not so much.

The Pickwick Papers, Charles Dickens. Saved the best for last. I've read The Pickwick Papers four or five times through the years. My enjoyment seems to increase with each reading. I especially appreciated the humor which ranges from sly to slapstick. If someone ever compiles a list of the best or favorite fictional characters Sam Well will receive a vote from me.