MARCH/APRIL 2009

THE BELIEVER BOOK AWARD

THE FIFTH ANNUAL—HEREBY PRESENTED TO

Novel About My Wife
by Emily Perkins

Novel About My Wife is the sort of book that the phrase “spoiler alert” was invented for. Important information is withheld by the author. Crucial facts are withheld by characters from each other. It’s hard to even talk about the book without giving too much away. Ann, the redheaded, titular Wife, is largely unknowable. Tom, her husband, our narrator, is putting pen to paper in order to hash out just what it is that happened in the previous few years. This astonishing novel, written by a New Zealander who once lived in London, was first released in Britain and was largely, inexplicably overlooked when it was published in the U.S.

Depending on whom you believe, Novel About My Wife could be a domestic drama, a psychological thriller, or a ghost story. In any case, it is taut with anxiety, a perfect capper to one of modern history’s most unsettled years. The book is rife with subway bombings, failed careers in art and screenwriting, fear of homeless people and young thugs, fear of mortgages one can’t afford to pay off, to mention nothing of marital infidelity and jealousy of your more successful, dumber neighbors. There’s anxiety over late parenthood, especially when financial prospects are so dim. Above all, the novel embodies the nagging feeling that something is wrong, terribly wrong, but to find and fix it is just impossible. About one chapter into the novel, Tom tells us what happened to Ann. What he never quite figures out is why it happened.

In difficult times, readers usually turn to escapism in their fiction. Who wants to face what we’ve done to ourselves, at this point? A reassuring fantasy could hardly be the bravest book of this particular year. Emily Perkins has written the opposite. Call it No-Escapism: a novel best consumed in one sleepless night. A story that so perfectly sums up the zeitgeist of the late ’00s that if you could bottle it, like a perfume, it would smell like missed mortage payments and terror.

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FROM NOVEL ABOUT MY WIFE

I’d like to be inside her somehow, to strap her ribcage on over my own and see the world from behind her skin like the serial killer in a lurid film. Breathe with her breath, hear and smell with her senses, taste the inside of her mouth, speak with her voice. A clear Perspex mask of her head, big holes gaping for eyes and mouth, sits in the corner of my office. She had a radiotherapy trainee do it, lay the cling film over her face, cover her with cold gypsoma strips, piece by tightening piece—so she would understand how her brain tumour patients feel. Plaster has plastic memory. Ann found it magical. These aren’t death masks, she’d say, they are the opposite.

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THE READER SURVEY

Novel About My Wife was chosen from a short list of novels (published in the February issue and accessible online here) selected by the editors of the Believer. We also asked our readers to fill out a survey card included in the November/December issue indicating which they thought were the three strongest works of fiction published in 2008. The long list of titles included many debuts from new authors, multiple works translated into English for the first time (including the top book, Roberto Bolaño’s 2666), and numerous graphic-based texts. There were also a few surprises. The collection of stories Unlucky Lucky Days by Daniel Grandbois received noted and unexpected enthusiasm from readers. The book inspired such fervor, in fact, that in some cases, all three submission spaces on a given card were filled with the Grandbois title. These particular survey cards were recorded as single, emphatic votes.

READER SURVEY RESULTS

  1. 2666—Roberto Bolaño
  2. Unlucky Lucky Days—Daniel Grandbois
  3. Lush Life—Richard Price
  4. The Lazarus Project—Aleksandar Hemon
  5. Netherland—Joseph O’Neill
  6. Vacation—Deb Olin Unferth
  7. Unaccustomed Earth—Jhumpa Lahiri
  8. Arkansas—John Brandon
  9. A Mercy—Toni Morrison
  10. Indignation—Philip Roth
  11. Death with Interruptions—José Saramago
  12. The Story of Edgar Sawtelle—David Wroblewski
  13. Bottomless Belly Button—Dash Shaw
  14. A Heaven of Others—Joshua Cohen
  15. So Brave, Young, and Handsome—Leif Enger
  16. How the Dead Dream—Lydia Millet
  17. Personal Days—Ed Park
  18. A Fraction of the Whole—Steve Toltz
  19. The Drop Edge of Yonder—Rudolph Wurlitzer
  20. Ghosts of Chicago—John McNally

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Other books that made our reader survey’s “long list” include:

  • The White Tiger—Aravind Adiga
  • City of Thieves—David Benioff
  • Jackalope Dreams—Mary Clearman Blew
  • Beautiful Children—Charles Bock
  • Nazi Literature in the Americas—Roberto Bolaño
  • Morality Tale—Sylvia Brownrigg
  • Sweetheart—Chelsea Cain
  • The Ghost in Love—Jonathan Carroll
  • The Brass Verdict—Michael Connelly
  • Requiem, Mass.—John Dufresne
  • The City and the Mountains—José Maria Eça de Queirós
  • All About Lulu—Jonathan Evison
  • The Other—David Guterson
  • The Condition—Jennifer Haigh
  • A Case of Exploding Mangoes—Mohammed Hanif
  • The English Major—Jim Harrison
  • Ritual—Mo Hayder
  • Beijing Coma—Ma Jian
  • Homage to Czerny—Gert Jonke
  • Telex from Cuba—Rachel Kushner
  • The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo—Stieg Larsson
  • The Given Day—Dennis Lehane
  • The House on Fortune Street—Margot Livesey
  • Shadow Country—Peter Matthiessen
  • The Private Lives of Pippa Lee—Rebecca Miller
  • The House at Riverton—Kate Morton
  • Senselessness—Horacio Castellanos Moya
  • The Pisstown Chaos—David Ohle
  • Brisingr—Christopher Paolini
  • Serena—Ron Rash
  • Cost—Roxana Robinson
  • The Tales of Beedle the Bard—J. K. Rowling
  • American Wife—Curtis Sittenfeld
  • On a Day Like This—Peter Stamm
  • Anathem—Neal Stephenson
  • The Boys in the Trees—Mary Swan
  • The Suicide Shop—Jean Teulé
  • Echoes from the Dead—Johan Theorin
  • The Flying Troutmans—Miriam Toews
  • This Must Be the Place—Anna Winger
  • What It Is—Lynda Barry
  • Skyscrapers of the Midwest—Joshua W. Cotter
  • Powr Mastrs #2—C.F.
  • Sublife #1—John Pham
  • Breakdowns—Art Spiegelman
  • Y: The Last Man, #10—Brian K. Vaughan
  • ACME Novelty Library #19—Chris Ware
  • Holding Pattern—Jeffrey Renard Allen
  • Things That Pass for Love—Allison Amend
  • You Must Be This Happy to Enter—Elizabeth Crane
  • The Boat—Nam Le
  • Dangerous Laughter—Steven Millhauser
  • Mother Superior—Saleema Nawaz
  • Knockemstiff—Donald Ray Pollock
  • Viva Loss—Sarah Fran Wisby

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