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 2013 list appears below. In an email to subscribers and at believermag.com/awards2014, we asked our readers to send in their nominations for the best work of fiction from 2013; their answers, along with the winner from the following short list, will appear in the May 2014 issue.

Long Division
Long Division by Kiese Laymon by Kiese Laymon (Bolden Books)
Long Division inhabits the spectacular space where pain meets humor. Laymon is a fearless writer who has created a brilliantly funny and searching narrator in City, a young man hurtling through time, trying to find a way to “survive in a society that is out to destroy you.” The novel’s daring characters seek truth as they chase down generations of a Mississippi family, square off with the Klan, and literally erase themselves from the face of the earth. Long Division is a rabbit hole of a book that must be read.

Bobcat and Other Stories
Bobcat and Other Stories by Rebecca Lee< by Rebecca Lee (Algonquin Books)
Lee’s stories in Bobcat are so treacherously companionable that they will make you nervous. Each story stalks the reader beyond its bailiwick, revealing itself in pools of indoor sunlight, adultery, and remembered facial tics. Lee’s narrative rises like bread (or revenge, or a joke), silently binding itself up in history (Poland in 1949; Hong Kong in 1989; New Orleans in 2005) and theory (architectural, linguistic, etiquette). The stories tell of child psychiatrists, matchmaking grandmothers, and charismatic teachers. Trust Lee to show you the structures at work beneath this violent shape-shifting.

Woke Up Lonely
Woke Up Lonely by Fiona Maazel by Fiona Maazel (Graywolf Press)
Woke Up Lonely isn’t about secret societies as much as it’s about the isolation of crowds. Hence the mass appeal of the Helix, a digital heresy that promises salvation to losers and lost souls of all stripes. Thurlow Dan isn’t just the self-appointed leader of the lonely; he’s also a member of the Helix, with a double agent for an ex-wife. Their relationship goes from espionage to hostage situation in Maazel’s sprawling, intimate novel, which is a perfectly poised screen-capture of hyper-modernity.

Hawthorn and Child
Hawthorn and Child by Keith Ridgway by Keith Ridgway (New Directions)
Ridgway’s Hawthorn and Child follows in the great lineage of Ireland’s absurd literary wanderings—Joyce, Beckett, O’Brien. In the guise of a detective thriller, the novel careens through a dreamy labyrinth of London streets, sputtering terse, clipped nuggets of language. Even its passing scenes carry insidious undertones, such as the way a man slides past a group of tourists “like Jesus through children.” It’s a cartoon pistol of a book—funny and vibrant, but powered by smoking violence.

A Questionable Shape
A Questionable Shape by Bennett Sims by Bennett Sims (Two Dollar Radio)
The reigning epithet for Sims’s debut novel, A Questionable Shape, is “the first Proustian zombie novel,” though it would be more apt to invoke Nicholson Baker’s The Mezzanine. Behind a thin scrim of plot is a meticulous, digressive, and empathic exploration of what it means to be alive—via, in this case, a story of what it means to be undead. In the hands of Sims’s footnote-happy and exasperatingly cogitative narrator, the conceit is both suspenseful and refreshingly non-hysterical: all brains, no braaains.

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