The finalists for the 2016 Kirkus Prize for Fiction have been announced. Sponsored by Kirkus Reviews, finalists are chosen from books that earned a Kirkus Star which is given to books of “exceptional merit.” The winner will receive $50,000.
Imagine Me Gone by Adam Haslett
When Margaret's fiancé, John, is hospitalized for depression in 1960s London, she faces a choice: carry on with their plans despite what she now knows of his condition, or back away from the suffering it may bring her. She decides to marry him. Imagine Me Gone is the story of what unfolds from this act of love and faith. At the heart of it is their eldest son, Michael, a brilliant, anxious music fanatic who makes sense of the world through parody. Over the span of decades, his younger siblings -- the savvy and responsible Celia and the ambitious and tightly controlled Alec -- struggle along with their mother to care for Michael's increasingly troubled and precarious existence. Told in alternating points of view by all five members of the family, this brings alive the love of a mother for her children, the often inescapable devotion siblings feel toward one another, and the legacy of a father's pain in the life of a family.
Carousel Court by Joe McGinniss Jr.
Carousel Court is the story of Nick and Phoebe Maguire, a young couple who move cross-country to Southern California in search of a fresh start for themselves and their infant son following a trauma. But they arrive at the worst possible economic time. Instead of landing in a beachside property, Nick and Phoebe find themselves cemented into the dark heart of foreclosure alley, surrounded by neighbours being drowned by their underwater homes who set fire to their belongings, flee in the dead of night, and eye one another with suspicion while keeping shotguns by their beds. Trapped, broke, and increasingly desperate, Nick and Phoebe each devise their own plan to claw their way back into the middle class and beyond. Hatched under one roof, their two separate, secret agendas will inevitably collide.
The Sport of Kings by C.E. Morgan
The title refers to horse racing, and the novel centres itself within that world: a connected web of humans and animals, as well as a fertile patch of land, in the heart of Kentucky. C.E. Morgan puts readers inside the consciousness of a range of characters who inhabit that patch of land through the years: an adolescent trying to grow up under the withering gaze of his landowner father; a brilliant black woman struggling with her seeming fate to be a household servant; a whip-smart boy who grows up in the ghetto but seeks to know more about his mysterious origins; and a girl whose uncompromising love of her family's legacy leads her to gamble with her own life.
Barkskins by Annie Proulx
In the late seventeenth century two penniless young Frenchmen, René Sel and Charles Duquet, arrive in New France. Bound to a feudal lord, a “seigneur,” for three years in exchange for land, they become wood-cutters—barkskins. René suffers extraordinary hardship, oppressed by the forest he is charged with clearing. He is forced to marry a Mi’kmaw woman and their descendants live trapped between two inimical cultures. But Duquet, crafty and ruthless, runs away from the seigneur, becomes a fur trader, then sets up a timber business. Proulx tells the stories of the descendants of Sel and Duquet over three hundred years—their travels across North America, to Europe, China, and New Zealand, under stunningly brutal conditions—the revenge of rivals, accidents, pestilence, Indian attacks, and cultural annihilation. Over and over again, they seize what they can of a presumed infinite resource, leaving the modern-day characters face to face with possible ecological collapse.
(See my review: http://schatjesshelves.blogspot.ca/2016/09/review-of-barkskins-by-annie-proulx.html.)
A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles
In 1922, Count Alexander Rostov is deemed an unrepentant aristocrat by a Bolshevik tribunal and is sentenced to house arrest in the Metropol, a grand hotel across the street from the Kremlin. Rostov, an indomitable man of erudition and wit, has never worked a day in his life and must now live in an attic room while some of the most tumultuous decades in Russian history are unfolding outside the hotel’s doors. Unexpectedly, his reduced circumstances provide him entry into a much larger world of emotional discovery. The novel relates the count’s endeavor to gain a deeper understanding of what it means to be a man of purpose.
The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
Cora is a slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia. Life is hell for all the slaves, but especially bad for Cora; an outcast even among her fellow Africans, she is coming into womanhood—where even greater pain awaits. When Caesar, a recent arrival from Virginia, tells her about the Underground Railroad, they decide to take a terrifying risk and escape. Matters do not go as planned—Cora kills a young white boy who tries to capture her. Though they manage to find a station and head north, they are being hunted. In Whitehead’s conception, the Underground Railroad is no mere metaphor—engineers and conductors operate a secret network of tracks and tunnels beneath the Southern soil. Cora and Caesar’s first stop is South Carolina, in a city that initially seems like a haven. But the city’s placid surface masks an insidious scheme designed for its black denizens. And even worse: Ridgeway, the relentless slave catcher, is close on their heels. Forced to flee again, Cora embarks on a harrowing flight, state by state, seeking true freedom.
The winner will be announced on November 3.
For the complete list of nominees, see https://www.kirkusreviews.com/prize/nominees/fiction/?&sort=published&availability=available&stars=na. There you can also find the nominees for the nonfiction and young readers categories and links to the reviews of the books.