2009 PEN/Faulkner Award Winner is Joseph O'Neill's "Netherland"

"Netherland," the third novel by Joseph O'Neill, has drawn comparisons to F. Scott Fitzgerald's "The Great Gatsby." (By Lisa Ackerman)
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By Bob Thompson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 26, 2009

Joseph O'Neill has won the 2009 PEN/Faulkner Award for fiction for his widely praised novel "Netherland." Set in New York after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the book has drawn repeated comparisons to "The Great Gatsby" while managing to overcome American readers' indifference to cricket, the game around which much of its narrative is built.

"No better mind has gone to work on where we are post-9/11," said Lee Abbott, one of three writers who served as PEN/Faulkner judges. As for cricket, Abbott said, he has never watched a game, but "I'd love to see one in O'Neill's company -- and he makes me feel that I did."

O'Neill, 45, is an Irish-born immigrant who sought out New York's cricket subculture when he arrived there in 1998. After a couple of seasons competing with cricket-loving immigrants from South Asia, the West Indies and elsewhere, he said in an interview, he realized there was "a story to be written about this marginalized and emblematically invisible world."

In addition to the winner, the PEN/Faulkner Foundation named four finalists:

-- Sarah Shun-Lien Bynum for "Ms. Hempel Chronicles," a novel- in-stories about a middle school teacher "navigating the final passage to her own adulthood," as the Christian Science Monitor's reviewer described it, "even as she ushers her students through the tricky narrows of adolescence."

-- Susan Choi for "A Person of Interest," which draws on the story of the Unabomber and which Washington Post critic Ron Charles called "one of the most remarkable novels to have emerged from our age of terror."

-- Richard Price for "Lush Life," a novel the Boston Globe's reviewer described as exploring "the collision between the old and new Lower East Sides, the disconnect between the faux-Bohemians who swan through the streets, coked up, in their moccasins, and the kids from the projects who are forever being stopped and frisked by the Quality of Life Task Force."

-- Ron Rash for his novel "Serena," set in the Depression-era logging camps of North Carolina. Rash is a PEN/Faulkner finalist for the second year in a row, having been honored for "Chemistry and Other Stories" in 2008.

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