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Saturday, October 3, 2015

2015 Kirkus Prize for Fiction Finalists

Earlier this week, the finalists for the 2015 Kirkus Prize for Fiction were announced.  I had never heard of this literary award, but research tells me that this is the second year for the $50,000 prize sponsored by Kirkus Reviews.  Finalists are chosen from books that earned a Kirkus Star which is given to books of “exceptional merit.”  I do not find the reviews in the magazine to be especially thorough or insightful, tending more towards plot summary than literary analysis; nonetheless, I may check out a couple of the books on their finalist list.  These plot summaries are from

The Incarnations by Susan Barker
This novel is about a Beijing taxi driver whose past incarnations haunt him through letters sent by his mysterious soulmate.  The letters are filled with the stories of Wang’s previous lives spanning one thousand years of betrayal and intrigue.  As the letters continue to appear seemingly out of thin air, Wang becomes convinced that someone is watching him—someone who claims to have known him for over one thousand years.  And with each letter, Wang feels the watcher growing closer.

A Manual for Cleaning Women by Lucia Berlin
The stories in this posthumous collection are virtually all narrated by hard-living women.

Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff
This book is an examination of a marriage and also a portrait of creative partnership.  Every story has two sides. Every relationship has two perspectives.  And sometimes, it turns out, the key to a great marriage is not its truths but its secrets.  At the core of this novel, Lauren Groff presents the story of one such marriage over the course of twenty-four years.  At age twenty-two, Lotto and Mathilde are tall, glamorous, madly in love, and destined for greatness.  A decade later, their marriage is still the envy of their friends, but we understand that things are even more complicated and remarkable than they have seemed.  With stunning revelations and multiple threads, Groff delivers a novel about love, art, creativity, and power.
Note:  This book also appears on the longlist for the National Book Award for Fiction.

The Story of My Teeth by Valeria Luiselli, translated by Christina MacSweeney
A straightforward summary of this book is difficult to find.  Most sites describe it as an experimental novel with its primary appeal being the philosophical digressions.  The author described this book as a “collective ‘novel-essay’ about the production of value and meaning in contemporary art and literature.”

The Book of Aron by Jim Shepard
Aron is a perceptive but not always happy young boy coming into awareness of himself and his family's struggles.  When they are driven from the countryside into Warsaw, their lives are changed forever. Aron and a group of boys and girls risk their lives scuttling around the ghetto, smuggling and trading things through the "quarantine walls" to keep their people alive, while they are hunted by blackmailers and Jewish and Polish and German police.  Gradually things worsen, people begin to disappear, and survival is threatened on all sides.  

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
When four classmates from a small Massachusetts college move to New York to make their way, they're broke, adrift, and buoyed only by their friendship and ambition.  There is kind, handsome Willem, an aspiring actor; JB, a quick-witted, sometimes cruel Brooklyn-born painter seeking entry to the art world; Malcolm, a frustrated architect at a prominent firm; and withdrawn, brilliant, enigmatic Jude, who serves as their center of gravity.  Over the decades, their relationships deepen and darken, tinged by addiction, success, and pride.  Yet their greatest challenge, each comes to realize, is Jude himself, by midlife a terrifyingly talented litigator yet an increasingly broken man, his mind and body scarred by an unspeakable childhood, and haunted by what he fears is a degree of trauma that he’ll not only be unable to overcome—but that will define his life forever.
Note:  :  This book also appears on the longlist for the National Book Award for Fiction and the Man Booker shortlist.  I posted a review of this novel on August 10, 2015.

The reviews of these books from Kirkus Reviews can be accessed at

The winner will be announced on October 15.