National Book Award longlist in fiction

September 19, 2013
(Courtesy of Farrar Straus Giroux)
(Courtesy of Farrar Straus Giroux)

Once again, Washington-area writer Alice McDermott is in the running for the National Book Award. Her new novel, “Someone,” about an Irish American family in New York, is among 10 titles on the “longlist” announced this morning for the $10,000 fiction prize. McDermott, who teaches writing at Johns Hopkins, has been a finalist twice before and won the award in 1998 for “Charming Billy.”

The longlist includes several of America’s most celebrated novelists, including the reclusive Thomas Pynchon, who won a National Book Award 40 years ago for “Gravity’s Rainbow.” His new novel, “Bleeding Edge,” is a frenetic, conspiracy-fueled story that opens in New York before the Twin Towers have fallen.

The London-born Indian-American author Jhumpa Lahiri, who won a Pulitzer Prize for her debut collection of stories, “Interpreter of Maladies” (1999), is on this year’s longlist for her somber new novel, “The Lowland.” The story of a grief-stricken couple from Calcutta who moves to New Jersey, it will be published in the U.S. next week but has already been shortlisted for Britain’s Man Booker Prize.

Meanwhile, Washington-born Anthony Marra is living the beginning writer’s dream. “A Constellation of Vital Phenomena,” his debut novel about a brutally repressed village in Chechnya, received spectacular reviews earlier this year and is now a contender for the National Book Award. (It’s my favorite book of the year.)

And Rachel Kushner is on a roll. Her first novel, “Telex From Cuba,” was a finalist for the NBA in 2008, and now her second novel, “The Flamethrowers,” about a young woman crashing into the 1970s New York art scene, is a finalist, too.

Here is the full longlist for the fiction prize:

Tom Drury, “Pacific” (Grove).

Elizabeth Graver, “The End of the Point” (Harper).

Rachel Kushner, “The Flamethrowers” (Scribner). Reviewed here.

Jhumpa Lahiri, “The Lowland” (Forthcoming from Knopf on Sept. 24).

Anthony Marra, “A Constellation of Vital Phenomena” (Hogarth). Reviewed here.

James McBride, “The Good Lord Bird” (Riverhead). Reviewed here.

Alice McDermott, “Someone” (Farrar Straus Giroux). Reviewed here.

Thomas Pynchon, “Bleeding Edge” (Penguin). Reviewed here.

George Saunders, “Tenth of December: Stories” (Random House). Reviewed here.

Joan Silber, “Fools: Stories” (Norton).

(Courtesy of Hogarth)
Anthony Marra is the only debut novelist on this year’s longlist for fiction. (Courtesy of Hogarth)

Disappointing omissions from this year’s longlist include Claire Messud’s fiery novel “The Woman Upstairs“; Philipp Meyer’s epic story of Texas, “The Son“; and Bob Shacochis’s literary spy thriller, “The Woman Who Lost Her Soul.”

Former New York Times Book Review editor Charles McGrath is the chair of this year’s fiction committee. The other four judges are Charles Baxter, who was a finalist for the National Book Award in 2000 for “The Feast of Love”; Gish Jen, the author of four novels and a collection of stories; Rick Simonson, a bookseller at Elliott Bay Book Company in Seattle; and René Steinke, who was a finalist for the National Book Award in 2005 for “Holy Skirts.”

Publishers submitted 408 works of fiction for consideration this year. To be eligible, a book must have been written by a U.S. citizen and published between Dec. 1, 2012 and Nov. 30, 2013.

This is the first year the National Book Foundation has published “longlists” and the first year it has released the finalists in the four categories over a sequence of four days. The longlist for the prize in young people’s literature was released on Monday; the poetry list was announced on Tuesday; the nonfiction list on Wednesday.

All these longlists will be narrowed to five finalists in each category on Oct. 16. The winners will be announced on Nov. 20 in New York.

Ron Charles is the editor of The Washington Post's Book World. For a dozen years, he enjoyed teaching American literature and critical theory in the Midwest, but finally switched to journalism when he realized that if he graded one more paper, he'd go crazy.
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