The PEN/Faulkner award nominees have been announced, and - surprise! - Jonathan Franzen's Freedom was nowhere to be found on the list.
Here's what was on it:
A Visit from the Goon Squad, Jennifer Egan
The Collected Stories of Deborah Eisenberg
Model Home, Eric Puchner
Aliens in the Primes of Their Lives, Brad Watson
The winner, who gets $15,000, will be announced March 15.
I'll be the first to admit that most of the time, the art world holds little fascination for me. I haven't even bothered with Art Basel, one of the world's biggest art events, these past few years, and it's right here in my own backyard.
All that is changing, however, after listening to an audiobook of Steve Martin's novel An Object of Beauty, a comedy of manners that somehow makes a subject in which I have only a marginal interest compelling - and hugely entertaining.
The novel follows the career of the sharp-eyed, sexually voracious and morally bankrupt Lacey Yaeger, who starts as a cog in the great wheel that is Sotheby's and soon enough makes her mark in the art world as a dealer. Along the way she shatters hearts, friendships and a few hard and fast rules of the art world. Narrated with sardonic restraint by her old friend Daniel, an art writer, An Object of Beauty is a modern-day morality tale, with Martin acting as a wry guide through the ebbs and flows of the art market. I plan to track down more of his books soon, and not just because I grew up in the era of "getting small."
The best reason to opt for the audiobook over the print version is actor Campbell Scott, who quite simply is one of the best readers I've heard. He's funny and slips deftly in and out of the characters' voices (and also does credible French and Russian accents), and he also manages Lacey's voice without slipping into high-pitched mimicry.
A woman who once worked as a maid for a relative of Kathryn Stockett, author of the bestselling novel The Help, is suing the writer, saying that a black servant character in the book was based on her and showed her in a bad light.
The Associated Press reports that Ablene Cooper, who worked for Stockett's brother, filed suit in Hinds County Circuit Court in Jackson, Miss., on Feb. 9, seeking $75,000 in damages.
One of the offending passages cited, says the AP, includes a scene in which the character, named Aibileen, refers to a cockroach, saying, "He black. Blacker than me."
The Help, which was published in 2009 and sold 2.5 million hardcover copies in the U.S., is based on relationships between white families and black maids in the South of the 1960s. A film version, due out this summer, stars Emma Stone, Allison Janney, Bryce Dallas Howard, Viola Davis, Sissy Spacek and Octavia Spencer.
More than 100 years separate the flood of characters in Jonathan Evison’s bracing epic novel, and yet as different as their lives are, some truths remain solid despite the passage of time. Men will attempt to forge into the unknown whether they’re mapping dangerous uncharted territory or trying to prove the existence of Bigfoot. Women will strain against the uncomfortable limits of domesticity, and visionaries will eventually run smack into harsh reality. And mountains, well, mountains will always work nicely as metaphors for the greatness we might achieve even if we never will.
West of Here is a sprawling tragicomic novel about identity — national and personal — that’s as entertaining as it is insightful into the human need to make a mark on the landscape. The land in question here is Port Bonita on Washington State’s Olympic peninsula, at the mouth of the mighty Elwha River, where Evison’s parallel stories dovetail the town of 1890 (prostitutes, Shakers, adventurers, entrepreneurs) with its present (Walmart, casinos, KFC, Sasquatch hunters). The original citizens are a mix of rough-and-tumble opportunists, doomed Native Americans and motivated dreamers who envision Port Bonita’s future as a rival to Seattle (which has conveniently just burned to the ground). Their modern descendants desire things, too: companionship, better jobs, a loosely defined freedom. They are slowly realizing, however, that a big payment is coming due for all of their ancestors’ miscalculations.
Click here to read the rest of my review of West of Here.
Karl Marlantes' epic novel of Vietnam Matterhorn has received the 2011 William E. Colby Award, which recognizes a first work of fiction or nonfiction that makes a significant contribution to the public understanding of intelligence operations, military history or international affairs.
Marlantas received the Navy Cross, the Bronze Star, two Navy Commendation Medals for valor, two Purple Hearts and 10 air medals for his service in Vietnam, from which he draws in Matterhorn, which is set in 1969 and follows a rifle platoon stationed at the Laos border. He's also a Yale grad and Rhodes Scholar.
The prize is $5,000 and will be awarded to Marlantes in October.
“A friend of mine once said I was a dark optimist,’’ says the author of the dazzling short-story collection Where the God of Love Hangs Out (Random, $15 in paper). “I’m very big on ‘hope for the best, prepare for the worst.’ That seems reasonable to me. There are a lot of unexpected things that are funny in this world in the midst of terrible things. My sister and I, in our early 20s, had to leave a relative’s funeral because we were laughing so hard. That aspect — not necessarily the cruel aspect, the funny aspect — of the way in which man plans and God laughs does strike me funny.”
Bloom, who lives in Connecticut with her husband and appears Tuesday at the Adolph & Rose Levis Jewish Community Center in Boca Raton, is the author of the novels Away and Love Invents Us; the story collections Come to Me, a National Book Award finalist, and the exquisitely titled A Blind Man Can See How Much I Love You, which was nominated for the National Book Critics Circle Award. In her nonfiction book Normal, she explores sex and gender through the life stories of transsexuals, cross dressers and others considered far outside the mainstream. She wrote for the Lifetime TV show State of Mind, which starred Lili Taylor. (She doesn’t write poetry, though: “I’m no good at it.”) In all her work, she’s a master at navigating the perilous lines between human comedy and tragedy.
Click here to read the rest of my story about Bloom, who is one of my favorite short story writers of all time.
"We wear our names heavily,” admits the narrator of Eleanor Brown’s delightful debut novel about three adult sisters raised in a Shakespeare-obsessed household. How easily can one adjust to and cope with the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune with such names as Rosalind (who dresses like a boy in As You Like It), Bianca (not even the most interesting woman in The Taming of the Shrew) and Cordelia (favorite but doomed daughter of King Lear)? Especially in an academically proficient family that chooses reading over watching TV and “has always communicated its deepest feelings through the words of a man who has been dead for almost four hundred years.”
No, adjusting to change is not easy for Rose, Bean and Cordy, who find themselves firmly lodged in the roles they’ve played all their lives: Rose the capable helper who stays at home with her parents in their small Ohio college town; Bean the bad girl with exquisite taste who lives large in New York City; Cordy the wanderer who hasn’t had a home since she left home. But change they must when their mother is diagnosed with breast cancer and a series of other events (a financial scandal, an unexpected pregnancy, a surprising job offer) throws them into a tailspin, sending Bean and Cordy home and Rose into a tizzy over how to share responsibility.
Named for MacBeth’s witches, The Weird Sisters is essentially a domestic comedy/drama that follows the sisters as they come to terms with their new living arrangement, their mother’s illness, their fears for their father, their individual torments. But Brown doesn’t make things easy on herself. She bestows distinct traces of prickliness, self-obsession and irresponsibility on her women. They’re not storybook heroines but as susceptible to bad behavior as any of us. And she uses a first-person plural narrator — a collective we that speaks for every sister yet not any specific one — with a scope wide enough to view their inner turmoils and outer mistakes with wry understanding. The trick could have failed, yet it somehow doesn’t and pulls us into the heart of the family circle.
The constant quoting of Shakespeare by one and all seems a bit much at times: “Methinks the lady doth protest too much,’’ would be fairly easy to work into a normal conversation, but “No, no, I am as ugly as a bear; for beasts that meet me run for fear” or “And what remains will hardly stop the mouth of present dues; the future comes apace; what shall defend the interim” is a stretch even from a scholar’s lips. Still, I want to hope people could talk that way. That’s Brown’s great gift: She draws you in and makes you believe her weird sisters aren’t so weird after all.
Maybe it's a sign that the apocalypse isn't as nigh as we thought. Or maybe it's just because even fans of Jersey Shore have enough sense to be wary of the literary asperations of the guidos and guidettes. Or maybe we all have realized there are just better things to do.
Whatever the cares, you can insert your own snotty comment after I tell you that the Hollywood Reporter reports that despite a massive media blitz by its "author," A Shore Thing - a "novel" that Snooki "wrote" - has sold just shy of 9,000 copies so far.
Honestly, the real surprise is it sold THAT many.
The HR speculates that one of the reasons the book has failed is that it's not a tell-all memoir but then undermines its own theory by pointing out that the nonfiction Here's the Situation by Mike "The Situation" Sorrentino has only sold 12,200 copies since last November. Guess Sorrentino didn't tell enough.
On Saturday, the National Book Critics Circle announced its nominees; winners will be announced in March. You know all too well how I feel about the novels by Franzen and Egan, but let me just say: I tried to read Skippy Dies and couldn't get past the first few chapters.
A Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan (Knopf)
Freedom by Jonathan Franzen (FSG)
To the End of the Land by David Grossman (Knopf)
Comedy in a Minor Key by Hans Keilson (FSG)
Skippy Dies by Paul Murray (Faber Faber)
Nothing to Envy by Barbara Demick (Random House)
Empire of the Summer Moon by S.C. Gwynne (Simon Schuster)
Apollo’s Angels by Jennifer Homans (Random House)
The Emperor of All Maladies by Siddhartha Mukharjee (Simon Schuster)
The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson (Random House)
Half A Life by Darin Strauss (McSweeneys)
Just Kids by Patti Smith (Ecco)
Crossing Mandelbaum Gate by Kai Bird (Simon Schuster)
Autobiography of An Execution by David Dow (Hachette)
Hitch-22 by Christopher Hitchens (Twelve)
Hiroshima in the Morning by Rahna Reiko Rizzuto (Feminist Press)
How to Live: Or A Life of Montaigne in One Questions and Twenty Attempts at An Answer by Sarah Bakewell (Other Press)
The Secret Lives of Somerset Maugham: A Biography by Selina Hastings
Charlie Chan: The Untold Story of the Honorable Detective and His Rendezvous with American History by Yuente Huang
The Killing of Crazy Horse by Thomas Powers
Simon Wiesenthal: The Life and Legends by Tom Segev
The Posessed by Elif Batuman (FSG)
The Professor and Other Writings by Terry Castle (HarperCollins)
Lyric Poetry and Modern Politics: Russia, Poland, and the West by Clare Cavanagh (Yale)
The Cruel Radience by Susan Linfield (Univ. of Chicago)
Vanishing Point by Ander Monson (Graywolf)
One With Others by C.D. Wright (Copper Canyon)
Nox by Anne Carson (New Directions)
The Eternal City by Kathleen Graber (Princeton)
Lighthead by Terrance Hayes (Penguin)
The Best of It by Kay Ryan (Grove)