The Washington Post

PEN/Faulkner Fiction Award finalists announced


(Courtesy of Marian Wood Book/Putnam) (Courtesy of Marian Wood Book/Putnam)

The finalists for this year’s PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction were announced this morning in Washington:

At Night We Walk in Circles,” by Daniel Alarcón (Riverhead).

Percival Everett by Virgil Russell,” by Percival Everett (Graywolf).

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves,” by Karen Joy Fowler (G.P. Putnam’s Sons).

“Fools,” by Joan Silber  (Norton).

“Search Party: Stories of Rescue,” by Valerie Trueblood (Counterpoint).

This year’s judges were Madison Smartt Bell, Manuel Muñoz and Achy Obejas. They considered more than 400 titles published by American authors in 2013.

The PEN/Faulkner foundation notes that this award is “America’s largest peer-juried prize for fiction.” That is, the finalists are chosen by other fiction writers, and that design imbues the selections with a distinctive flavor. It’s my impression that the PEN/Faulkner judges frequently favor smaller works of fiction and short stories. For instance, there’s no overlap here with the finalists for there 2013 National Book Award for Fiction — no Thomas Pynchon, James McBride or Jhumpa Lahiri. It’s no surprise to find that Donna Tartt’s bestseller “The Goldfinch,” a finalist for the NBCC Fiction Prize, isn’t here.

Karen Joy Fowler’s “We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves” is the most popular book among this year’s PEN/Faulkner finalists. Fowler attracted enormous attention in 2004 with a bestseller called “The Jane Austen Book Club.” Her new novel is a witty, soulful story about a young woman raised with a chimp as her sibling.

(Courtesy of Riverhead) (Courtesy of Riverhead)

In some ways, Daniel Alarcón and Percival Everett have written even more unusual books. “At Night We Walk in Circles” is about a man obsessed with an actor involved in the revival of an absurdist play. And the circularity of that story is easily bested by Everett’s post-modern novel “Percival Everett by Virgil Russell.” Only serious students of literary fiction need apply.

The winner, who will be announced in early April, will receive $15,000. The finalists will each be given $5,000. All of them will read from their work at a dinner ceremony at the Folger Library on May 10. For tickets ($100), call 202-544-7077


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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