Picking the National Book Award winner

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The National Book Awards will be announced on Wednesday (November 18). Here are my predictions for who will win the fiction award. I should start off by noting that I really enjoyed two longlisted works that didn’t make the finals better than some of the finalists. Those were Bill Clegg’s Did You Ever Have a Family (you can read an interview I did with him here) and Nell Zink’s Mislaid. Even so, I still think the eventual winner is among the following.

National Book Award

5. Fortune Smiles: stories – Adam Johnson

This was the only finalist that I didn’t read. I was not a fan of Johnson’s Pulitzer Prize winning The Orphan Master’s Son and found no interest in reading his short story collection.

4. Refund: stories – Karen E. Bender

This collection is of stories that were previously published from 1992 through 2014. The majority of them deal with the notion of money and our obsession with it. The stories were beautifully written, but weren’t awe-inspiring. There are parts of stories that feel incomplete, while others feel like they focus too much on the wrong things.

3. The Turner House – Angela Flournoy

Flournoy’s debut work is a familial saga that dives deep into the economic collapse of Detroit. Flournoy writes and develops her character beautifully while maintaining a sense of realism. The Turner family is large and she balances two major characters – the oldest son Cha Cha and the youngest daughter Lelah – extremely well and allows the book to be both of theirs while also telling the history of their parents. You can read and interview I did with Flournoy here.

2. Fates and Furies – Lauren Groff

There are two sides to every story, and Groff’s novel does an admirable job telling both sides of a marriage. The first half feels almost like a fairy tale and it moves fast and furiously to cover a lot of ground. The second half smashes that perception and fills in the cracks slowly and adds much more background to what the reader already knows. The novel is written beautifully, but that might get in the way of some readers. Groff spends a lot of time on her language, which adds to the mysticism of her characters.

1. A Little Life – Hanya Yanagihara

I didn’t expect to like this novel the most. Many critics felt it was bloated. While that’s true, the meandering subplots add so much to the main course that it is worth the 700+ page journey. There are four overly-entitled friends on the surface, but beneath resides demons eager to get out. Once you peel back the layers, the lives of Jude and Willem are extraordinarily told. It’s the only novel where I felt encompassed by the characters as opposed to reading about them. It was a gorgeous telling that is predictably unpredicatable

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