PEN/Faulkner Finalists Selected!

 

The PEN/Faulkner award is the largest peer-reviewed literary prize in the USA. These selections span cultures and circumstances to tell their stories. The prize will be announced on May 2. Read these finalists now and pick your favorite!

Song of the Shank, Jeffery Renard Allen

At the heart of this remarkable novel is Thomas Greene Wiggins, a nineteenth-century slave and improbable musical genius who performed under the name Blind Tom. Song of the Shank opens in 1866 as Tom and his guardian, Eliza Bethune, struggle to adjust to their fashionable apartment in the city in the aftermath of riots that had driven them away a few years before. As the novel ranges from Tom's boyhood to the heights of his performing career, the inscrutable savant is buffeted by opportunistic teachers and crooked managers, crackpot healers and militant prophets. In his symphonic novel, Jeffery Renard Allen blends history and fantastical invention to bring to life a radical cipher, a man who profoundly changes all who encounter him.

Prayers for the Stolen, Jennifer Clement

Ladydi Garcia Martínez was born into a world where being a girl is a dangerous thing. In the mountains of Guerrero, Mexico, women must fend for themselves, as their men have left to seek opportunities elsewhere. In Guerrero the drug lords are kings, and mothers disguise their daughters as sons, or when that fails they "make them ugly" - cropping their hair, blackening their teeth- anything to protect them from the rapacious grasp of the cartels. And when the black SUVs roll through town, Ladydi and her friends burrow into holes in their backyards like animals, tucked safely out of sight. While her mother waits in vain for her husband's return, Ladydi and her friends dream of a future that holds more promise than mere survival, finding humor, solidarity and fun in the face of so much tragedy. When Ladydi is offered work as a nanny for a wealthy family in Acapulco, she seizes the chance, and finds her first taste of love with a young caretaker there. But when a local murder tied to the cartel implicates a friend, Ladydi's future takes a dark turn are her experiences.

Preparation for the Next Life, Atticus Lish

 This stunning debut novel plumbs the underbelly of New York City, tracing the relationship of Zou Lei, a Chinese immigrant working in a tiny noodle restaurant, and Skinner, an AWOL Iraqi war veteran and wanderer. Enduring stints in prison and homelessness, Zou Lei and Skinner experience life on society's fringes. Lish destroys the American dream with struggles his characters face and a New York City that is anything but idyllic. Zou Lei and Skinner have their budding relationship tested by insurmountable odds, and their own foibles and peculiarities are rendered with vivid detail. 

Station Eleven, Emily St John Mandel

An audacious, darkly glittering novel about art, fame, and ambition set in the eerie days of civilization's collapse, from the author of three highly-acclaimed previous novels. One snowy night a famous Hollywood actor slumps over and dies onstage during a production of King Lear. Hours later, the world as we know it begins to dissolve. Moving back and forth in time--from the actor's early days as a film star to fifteen years in the future, when a theater troupe known as The Travelling Symphony roams the wasteland of what remains--this suspenseful, elegiac, spellbinding novel charts the strange twists of fate that connect five people: the actor, the man who tried to save him, the actor's first wife, his oldest friend, and a young actress with the Traveling Symphony, caught in the crosshairs of a dangerous self-proclaimed prophet. Sometimes terrifying, sometimes tender, Station Eleven tells a story about the relationships that sustain us, the ephemeral nature of fame, and the beauty of the world as we know it.

Dept. of Speculation, Jenny Offill

Dept. of Speculation is a portrait of a marriage. It is also a beguiling rumination on the mysteries of intimacy, trust, faith, knowledge, and the condition of universal shipwreck that unites us all. Jenny Offill's heroine, referred to in these pages as simply "the wife," once exchanged love letters with her husband postmarked Dept. of Speculation, their code name for all the uncertainty that inheres in life and in the strangely fluid confines of a long relationship. As they confront an array of common catastrophes--a colicky baby, a faltering marriage, stalled ambitions--the wife analyzes her predicament, invoking everything from Keats and Kafka to the thought experiments of the Stoics to the lessons of doomed Russian cosmonauts. She muses on the consuming, capacious experience of maternal love, and the near total destruction of the self that ensues from it as she confronts the friction between domestic life and the seductions and demands of art.