THE 2008 BELIEVER BOOK AWARD
EDITORS’ SHORT LIST
The winner will be announced in the March/April issue.
Each year the editors of the Believer generate a short list of the novels and story collections they thought were the strongest of the year. The 2008 list appears below. In the last issue, we asked our readers to send in their nominations for the best work of fiction from 2008; their answers, along with the winner from the following short list, will appear in the March/April issue.
The Invention of Everything Else
by Samantha Hunt (Houghton Mifflin)
This novel about a friendship between a hotel chambermaid and Nikola Tesla whimsically blends madness and science, city grids and dreamscapes, fact and fancy, pigeons and people. This is no novel-as-biopic, but a fictional wonderland comprising people who actually existed, and stuff that actually happened, and places that you can actually visit, made all the more gloriously real-seeming by Hunt’s magical yarn-spinning.
The Most of It
by Mary Ruefle (Wave Books)
The publisher of these prose poems calls them “stories,” but each is so surprising and exhilarating to read that we’re happy to call them whatever anyone wants.
Souls of Wind
by John Olson (Quale Press)
For many years, John Olson’s surreal poetry has popped with alliterative energy, and his first novel uses his obsessive sense of language to send Arthur Rimbaud into a post–Civil War, Wild West fever dream with Billy the Kid.
by Jim Krusoe (Tin House Books)
Jonathan, this unsettling novel’s hero and narrator, is a young, directionless animal-rights enthusiast who works at a strip-mall yogurt shop. When he discovers six women trapped in the shop’s basement, frozen in a state of suspended animation (preserved in acidophilus, to be exact), he makes it his mission to save them. What ensues is a comic and moral kind of nightmare; a dark, funny, formal inquiry into suspension of disbelief as the common ground of storytelling and self-justification.
Novel About My Wife
by Emily Perkins (Bloomsbury USA)
Emily Perkins’s mordantly observed novel about London couples, marriage, mortgages, and the begrudging acceptance of middle-age takes a dark turn when Ann (the eponymous wife) becomes pregnant, and Tom (the eponymous “My”) must make sense of her intensifying bizarreness. Is Ann psychologically unhinged or is something supernaturally awry in their Hackney home? Is Ann being stalked? Haunted? Who is deluded and who is sane? Perkins’s swift and engrossing portrait of emotional dissolution reads like a ghost story of the mind.
All Shall Be Well; And All Shall Be Well; and All Manner of Things Shall Be Well
by Tod Wodicka (Pantheon)
Burt Hecker, the sexagenarian narrator of Wodicka’s first novel, doesn’t drive a car, or eat potatoes, or drink coffee. These things, and hundreds more, are OOP, or “Out of Period,” for Hecker, who has dedicated himself to living the way people did in medieval times. In Wodicka’s hands, Burt’s idiosyncrasies are hilarious and heart-crushing—a yearning for a golden age in order to evade the “troublesome, promiscuous present.”
by Toby Olson (University of Texas Press)
The author continues to toy with his depiction of reality, subtly bending perceptions and casting shadows with sophisticated prose. Set against a Day of the Dead that rivals Lowry’s Under the Volcano in its bleakness, Olsen’s novel unravels the mysterious inner workings of memory.
by Shannon Burke (Soft Skull)
In this concise and horrific but oddly beautiful page turner, Shannon Burke mixes excerpts from a manual on childbirth and the transcription of an academy graduation speech with brutal but unsensationalized details from his five-year experience as a Harlem paramedic. The story focuses on the moral crisis and subsequent coming of age of Ollie Cross, a young, green, slightly out-of-place newbie medic; the more fascinating character, though, is his cynical, emotionally stunted hard-ass partner Rutkovsky, who inadvertently does for vicious tough guys what Mickey Rourke recently did for soft-hearted tough guys. It’s a slim, adrenaline-boosting read, but Burke’s sentence are as elegantly precise as his images are visceral—cheese doodles on bloodied bodies, a hard palate on the concrete, the mutilated body of someone you know but can no longer clearly identify—and the book lingers long after the narrative’s sped past.
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