Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Reading Envy's Pick for the PEN/Faulkner Award

I finished the last book on nominee list for the The PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction tonight, just in time for the award to be announced March 26!

The description again from their website:
Founded by writers in 1980, the PEN/Faulkner Foundation brings together American writers and readers in a wide variety of programs to promote a love of literature.  The foundation is named for William Faulkner, who used his Nobel Prize funds to create an award for young writers, and PEN, the international writers’ organization.

If I had to bet, I'd say that this year's award will go to a volume of short stories. I think I'd give a slight edge to the Millhauser over the DeLillo, but they are such different volumes it is hard to say.   DeLillo reads as a capture of a certain time, and is a short set of more recent stories.  The Millhauser is really a compilation of thirty years of stories, with only the first handful being brand new (they were my favorites in the volume too). 

Millhauser was a pleasant surprise. He writes with an imagined nostalgia, for things that never really existed, like magic carpets and intricately carved snow people. Some of the stories are more about the magic found in the mundane, like the time between when you get to the ocean and you first stick a toe in, and these were my favorite. The least interesting (to me) were those about people who DO magic, like magicians and wizards, and I ended up skimming those.

One of my favorite Millhauser stories was "We Others," told from the perspective of a ghost (oh, it took me two reviews of this book to realize that is also the title the author chose for it.  Well he should!). It starts like this:
"We others are not like you. We are more prickly, more jittery, more restless, more reckless, more secretive, more desperate, more cowardly, more bold. We live at the edges of ourselves, not in the middle places. We leave that to you. Did I say: more watchful? That above all. We watch you, we follow you, we spy on you, we obsess over you. We crave your attention. We hunger for a sign...."
If I were awarding the PEN/Faulkner, this is how it would go:
  1. Steven Millhauser for We Others: New and Selected Stories (my review)
  2. Don DeLillo for The Angel Esmeralda: Nine Stories (my review)
  3. Russell Banks for Lost Memory of Skin (my review)
  4. Anita Desai for The Artist of Disappearance (my review)
  5. Julie Otsuka for The Buddha in the Attic (my review)
I know the Otsuka is listed on a bunch of award nominations this year.  I feel like I have very good reasons for having less of an opinion about it, and I encourage you to read my review.  I always feel a little strange when I disagree with the majority, but I have my own mind, thank you very much.  

Have you read any of these?  Do you have any thoughts to share before the 26th?


  1. While I've read other DeLillo, I haven't read any of these. You certainly got me intrigued about Millhauser's collection!


Thanks for visiting the Reading Envy blog and podcast. Word verification has become necessary because of spam.