81-year-old Peter Matthiessen has taken home the National Book Award for fiction in something of an upset. His book, Shadow Country (excerpt), as the Bloomberg notes, came about after he “rewrote and compressed portions of his novels about the murderous Florida sugar-cane farmer Edgar J. Watson — Killing Mister Watson, Lost Man’s River and Bone by Bone — into a single 892-page volume published by the Modern Library.”While Matthiessen’s win was perhaps a slight upset over Marilynne Robinson, whose Home was a sequel to Pulitzer-winning Gilead, the bigger upset was on the non-fiction side, where Annette Gordon-Reed’s The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family (excerpt) beat out The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned into a War on American Ideals by Jane Mayer. Mayer’s indictment of the Bush administration’s anti-terror tactics grabbed plenty of headlines this year, but The Hemingses of Monticello, despite being less obviously timely, was highly regarded for moving the ball forward in pursuing the thorny truth behind Thomas Jefferson and his slaves. Indeed, Jill Lepore made a very compelling case for the book in the New Yorker in September.Rounding out the winners, Fire to Fire: New and Selected Poems by Mark Doty (poem) won the poetry category and the award in young people’s literature went to What I Saw and How I Lied by Judy Blundell.
Award season is hitting a its stride, and this year’s National Book Award finalists have been announced. Looking at our speculative post of a couple weeks ago, we pegged Marilynne Robinson and Aleksandar Hemon as likely fiction finalists (kudos to Garth on guessing both). Joining them is 81-year-old Peter Matthiessen for a book that, as the AP notes, is “an 890-page revision of a trilogy of novels he released in the 1990s.” The other two fiction finalists, meanwhile, are somewhat more obscure. Not making the fiction cut are notable writers like Philip Roth, Jhumpa Lahiri, and Geraldine Brooks. Here’s a list of the finalists in all four categories with bonus links and excerpts where available:Fiction:Home by Marilynne Robinson (excerpt, a most anticipated book)The Lazarus Project by Aleksandar Hemon (excerpt)Telex from Cuba by Rachel Kushner (excerptShadow Country by Peter Matthiessen (excerpt)The End by Salvatore Scibona (excerpt)Nonfiction:This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War by Drew Gilpin Faust (excerpt)The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family by Annette Gordon-Reed (excerpt)The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned into a War on American Ideals by Jane Mayer (excerpt)Final Salute: A Story of Unfinished Lives by Jim Sheeler (excerpt)The Suicide Index: Putting My Father’s Death in Order by Joan Wickersham (excerpt)Poetry:Watching the Spring Festival by Frank Bidart (in The Quarterly Conversation)Fire to Fire: New and Selected Poems by Mark Doty (poem)Creatures of a Day by Reginald Gibbons (poem)Without Saying by Richard Howard (poem)Blood Dazzler by Patricia Smith (recordings)Young People’s Literature:Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson (excerpt)The Underneath by Kathi Appelt (excerpt)What I Saw and How I Lied by Judy BlundellThe Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart (excerpt)The Spectacular Now by Tim Tharp (excerpt)