The Believer Book Award

Editors’ Shortlist

The winner will be announced in the next issue.

Each year, the editors of the Believer generate a short list of the novels and story collections they thought were the strongest and most underappreciated of the year. The 2012 list appears below. In the January issue, we asked our readers to send in their nominations for the best work of fiction from 2012; their answers, along with the winner from the following short list, will appear in the May 2013 issue.

Maidenhead
Maidenhead by Tamara Faith Berger by Tamara Faith Berger (Coach House Books)
In the very original Maidenhead, what is painful, exciting, and sexy for the protagonist becomes what is painful, exciting, and sexy for the reader. It’s hard to step completely back from Myra, the book’s teenage protagonist, who is at once ridiculous and powerful. Her sexual awakening begins on a beach during a family vacation in Key West, and it throws her down a rabbit hole of new meanings (about race, politics, philosophy, and womanhood). Berger handles it all with great sensitivity, and without prudery or fear.

I’m Trying to Reach You
I’m Trying to Reach You by Barbara Browning by Barbara Browning (Two Dollar Radio)
Barbara Browning’s second novel is a multimedia work, marrying the printed book with a series of internet dance videos created by the author. I Am Trying to Reach You embraces the underappreciated syntax of the information age, written like a blog by an academically trained performance artist (which Browning is) with emoticon-packed texts and the pithiness of a nasty comments section. In its pages, cunctation is more important than narration, Wikipedia is more relevant than truth, and the compulsion of the lurker is the engine of storytelling.

My Struggle (Book One)
My Struggle (Book One) by Karl Ove Knausgaard by Karl Ove Knausgaard (Archipelago Books)
Why name your gentle, wry, and deeply moving autobiographical novel after some crappy anti-Semitic memoir from the 1920s? Published as Min kamp I to vast Norwegian acclaim (and sales) in 2009, My Struggle is the first of Knausgaard’s six-part series to be translated into English. Thankfully, the narrator resembles Marcel more than he does Adolf, as he struggles not against Jewish Marxism but rather the inexorable passage of lost time. Knausgaard’s deceptively casual prose (in Don Bartlett’s pellucid translation) elevates the author’s most banal personal moments to a level of near-world-historical significance.

Parsifal
Parsifal by Jim Krusoe by Jim Krusoe (Tin House Books)
Parsifal is, last and least, a cockeyed retelling of Percival’s quest for the grail: frankly, this couldn’t matter less. More to the point, Parsifal is less a novel than an unhurried fragmentary narrative involving a well-mannered fountain pen repairman, a sweetly doomed return to his childhood home in the forest, and an ample supporting cast of librarians, blind men, and large objects falling from the sky. Krusoe narrates and navigates with all the meticulousness, thrift, and impalpably creepy charm of, well, someone who grew up in the forest.

A Naked Singularity
A Naked Singularity by Sergio de la Pava by Sergio de la Pava (University of Chicago Press)
Self-published in 2008, A Naked Singularity was relaunched after an unprecedented word-of-mouth reputation. Were traditional publishers spooked by the 678-page sprawl? It’s hard to imagine not feeling caught up with Casi, an undefeated public defender, as his evolving sense of justice propels him toward an act of absurd, ballsy vigilantism. At once a modern legal procedural of TV-like immediacy and a throwback to the classic epic novel, it’s authentically uncompromising, especially when it comes to Casi’s mind, pondering empanadas and welterweight world champ Wilfred Benítez with Dostoyevskian heft.

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