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Winner of the National Book Award: A Novel of Fame, Honor, and Really Bad Weather

Winner of the National Book Award: A Novel of Fame, Honor, and Really Bad Weather

3.6 8
by Jincy Willett

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Set in Rhode Island, Winner of the National Book Award tells the story of twins who could not be more different. Abigail Mather is a woman of passionate sensual and sexual appetites, while her sister, the book loving local librarian Dorcas, lives a quiet life of the mind. But when the sisters are sought out by the predatory and famous poet, Guy DeVilbiss,


Set in Rhode Island, Winner of the National Book Award tells the story of twins who could not be more different. Abigail Mather is a woman of passionate sensual and sexual appetites, while her sister, the book loving local librarian Dorcas, lives a quiet life of the mind. But when the sisters are sought out by the predatory and famous poet, Guy DeVilbiss, who introduces them to Hollywood hack writer and possible psychopath Conrad Lowe, they rapidly become pawns in a game that leads to betrayal, shame and ultimately, murder.
Darkly comic and satirical, Jincy Willett's Winner of the National Book Award is unnervingly funny and disarmingly tender whether she is writing about sex, literary delusion or Yankee pretension.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“The funniest novel I have read, possibly ever. Brilliant, totally original, and worthy of its title. I promise you will laugh constantly and to the point of stomach damage.” —Augusten Burroughs, author of Running With Scissors and Dry

“Riotous . . . hugely funny . . . Willett's satirical abilities remain deliciously undimmed. . . . A wicked treat. . . . Amid the antic, hilarious, gender-bending battle of the sexes that Ms. Willett whips up in this book, either one may qualify as a reason to kill. Either that, or to die laughing.” —Janet Maslin, New York Times

“The author mows down worlds of artistic and psychological twaddle with killer sprays of language. Willett is effortlessly, furiously funny. . . . A.” —Entertainment Weekly

“Read the title with a snort that echoes across the room, and proceed from there...unnerving, scabrously funny...a spectacularly toxic novel.” —The Onion

“Willett plays artfully with narrative structure. . . . It's Dorcas' jaded take on every Yankee pretension, psycho-babble truism and literary delusion she encounters that makes this gothic tale so amusing.” —Seattle Times

“She writes for the joy of reading, not for the puffed-up pride of having written, and we're the ones who run off with the prize.” —New York Times Book Review

“Dorcas' deadpan narration is perfect. . . . Willett's hapless characters are, in the end: grotesquely flawed, hugely funny, but human.” —J.L. Johnson, Boston Herald

“A sharp, highly original satire.” —Time Out

“A hilarious black comedy . . . brilliantly constructed and unabashedly vicious . . . Nothing escapes [Willett's] notice, and Dorcas' keen view of the world is richer for that fact. And so are we.” —Miami Herald

Publishers Weekly
Willett's second book, after 1987's Jenny and the Jaws of Life (a collection of stories re-released last year with a foreword by David Sedaris), is a brilliant black comedy starring twins with antithetical dispositions and a handsome stranger with designs on both of them. Zaftig Abigail has turned promiscuity into an art form, while the literary, virginal Dorcas finds pleasure in the library-in its books, but also in the graffiti scrawled on its facade. Dorcas recounts Abigail's scandalous coming-of-age, marriage and eventual act of murder, weaving in excerpts from the book version penned later by Abigail and the sisters' friend, Hilda. Through Hilda and her writer husband, Guy, who considers Abigail "art itself," the twins become involved in a circle of artsy, intellectual and morally decadent friends. Abigail soon falls madly in love with Guy's old friend, the charming but sadistic Conrad, and ensnares herself in a destructive spiral of dieting, degradation and dependency. Through a fascinating interplay of violence and desire, Abigail's masochistic tendencies unfold (Dorcas had identified them as a teen: "I stopped hitting her only when I saw, through the stars of my rage, that she loved it"). It's hard to decide whom to cheer for most: Abigail for her triumphant revenge or Dorcas for her sense of humor, keen perception and restraint. Willett does a remarkable job of treating dark subject matter with shimmering playfulness, without diminishing its monstrosity. And embedded in her narrative is also a reflection on the subjective and sensual nature of written expression. Poignant and funny, mean and tender, Willett's novel is exuberantly original. (Oct.) Forecast: No, it hasn't won the National Book Award yet, but the cheeky title may fool a few unsuspecting readers. The Sedaris imprimatur gave new life to Willett's first book; her second (selected by Anna Quindlen as a Book-of-the-Month Club judge's pick) looks likely to build handily on the first's success. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
This dark but comic first novel (by the author of the short story collection Jenny and the Jaws of Life) is filled with evocative descriptions and pitch perfect dialog. Willett has devised a nicely original plot twist on the old chestnut of sibling rivalry and animated this novel with wonderfully realized characters. Ever since they were born, Abigail and Dorcas Mather have been polar opposites. Decorous Dorcas, who narrates the book, escapes into the world of reading, while Abigail, whom Dorcas refers to with bitterness and affection as "the warrior bawd," fulfills her appetites heedlessly, whether they're directed to sex or food. When the woman-hating ex-gynecologist Conrad Lowe comes to their small Rhode Island town, he is drawn to both sisters-to Dorcas for her restraint, intellect, and disdain for him, and to Abigail (whom he marries) for just what you might expect. As Conrad's perverse and malignant nature (this is one loathsome human being) is gradually revealed, tension among the sisters and Conrad reaches a fever pitch, and tragedy follows. From its opening lines to its satisfying conclusion, Willett's novel is enormously involving. For all public library fiction collections.-Nancy Pearl, Washington Ctr. for the Book, Seattle Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Hidden behind that dumb title is a mildly creepy tale of misbegotten love and ultimate revenge, a second outing from Willett (Jenny and the Jaws of Life, 1987). The action is set in Rhode Island in the 1970s. Abigail and Dorcas Mather are twins, born in 1938, and polar opposites, as we are reminded repeatedly. Dorcas is mind, Abigail is body. Dorcas, the narrator, who will become a head librarian, decides at age 12 that she will reserve her sensuality for books: "I yearned for duty the way Abigail yearned to show her ass." And show it she does, one carousing night, to the football team, who promptly gang-rape her. Abigail is simply happy to be the center of attention. She'll go on to a brief first marriage and motherhood (the twins raise daughter Anna together) before becoming a "mailman" and poisoning half the marriages in town. On her rounds, she meets Guy De Vilbiss, world-famous poet, and his sycophantic wife Hilda; the pear-shaped Guy and sheeplike Hilda come across as unprepossessing freaks. Through this couple, the twins meet Conrad Lowe, who will be their nemesis. Most famous for the exposé of his mother, an evil Hollywood diva, Conrad is a manipulative sadist, " a ladies' man who hated ladies." While Dorcas reads him correctly, Abigail, though no masochist, falls in love with him, and Conrad relishes her as the perfect victim. On their honeymoon, Conrad chains the seriously overweight Abby to the bed and starves her. The marriage goes downhill from there, and Conrad even manages to humiliate the virtuous Dorcas sexually before Abby recovers her pride and runs Conrad over, eight times. Willett is trying for black comedy but doesn't find the right blend of light and dark. Abby'sflip-flops, Dorcas's puzzling celibacy, and Conrad's dated, Noel Coward-like Waspishness just don't help.

Product Details

Publication date:
Edition description:
First Edition
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.74(d)

Read an Excerpt


An Ordinary Birth

Chapter 1

An Extraordinary Birth

Abigail Mather was special from the very beginning.

A fraternal twin, she had her birthday all to herself. Abigail was born, to Mathilda Wallace Mather, in the Providence Lying-In Hospital, on the thirty-first day of December, 1938. Six hours later, in the New Year, her twin, Dorcas, was born. Doctors and nurses exclaimed over this phenomenon, which had never before happened in the history of the hospital.

Here's oral history for you. Here's folk tradition. Hilda obviously didn't bother with any pesky, prosaic research. Why go down to the actual hospital and rifle through moldy files when you can get it from the horse's mouth?

Well, our filly has a convenient memory. We got this story, about the two distinct birth dates and being a legend in our own time, from Mother. Mother lived in a magical world, where the unbearable was blinked away even if it was ululating and pointing and hopping up and down in front of you, and the past was always rosier than actual experience. There was nothing wrong with Mother's mind, or her intellect, either. She was just, like her first daughter, remarkably good at fantasizing.

Abigail and I were born within fifteen minutes of each other on the last day of 1938. It says so on the certificates. We learned this, at the age of twenty, after having bragged for years about our unusual debut. I suspect the story started with Mother amusing herself, in a relatively innocent way, with alternate, more exciting versions of the great event, imagining different ways it could have happened, eventually hitting on this one, the most dramatic. After that it was a simple trick for Mother to forget that the story wasn't true.

Doctors and nurses did not &'grave;exclaim'' over you, Mother. I wish for your sake they had. You never did get enough attention in this world. You weren't as good at it as some.

There was, in fact, something rather special about our birth, but it won't be reported in In the Driver's Seat. Abigail came first all right, and she was a breech. They had to knock Mother out, so intense was her prolonged agony, and rummage around inside her like a cow, but no matter how often or how firmly they turned Abigail, she wiggled herself back into her preferred position.

Ass first. That's how she finally came out. My sister mooned the world for two hours while, behind her, I choked for air and sustenance. My sister blocked the light with her pinchable, Rubenesque behind while I groped, disoriented and blind, for the exit. All I wanted was to breathe and see. Just let me live.

My sister emerged with a list of complicated, interdependent demands. They pried her loose, with infinite patience, a pair of strong, hairy, male hands gently cupping her loins and hindquarters, pulling, releasing, in a pleasing tidal rhythm. When they got her out she held her breath, deliberately I have no doubt, so that they held her upside down and spanked her and generally made such a fuss that when I, the afterthought, emerged (on my hands and knees, I picture it, like an old ragbag crawling across a cartoon desert), I was given only cursory attention. And they told Mother, who briefly fought her way through the ether to get the vital stats, that she had a child of either sex: &'grave;A beautiful little girl''—holding Tubbo aloft like the Wimbledon Cup—&'grave;and a boy''—smiling in a kindly, commiserating sort of way, giving her just a glimpse of my homely little face, swaddling me like a hideous burn victim.

I was not a remarkably homely child. It was just the comparison. All things being relative.

This story, the one about my being a boy for the first half hour of my life, is probably true, unlike the other old wheeze. Mother told it often, but not with cruelty, and certainly not to aggrandize herself. Years later she was still outraged about their carelessness. &'grave;I don't want a boy,'' she had told them. &'grave;Now, now,'' they said. &'grave;I do not want a boy, and I have not made a boy, and that's all there is to that.'' The doctors, unwrapping me to prove their point, stared at her, she said, as though she were a witch and had changed my sex after the fact.

Mother favored Abigail in character, and me in sympathy. Mother admired me. That was nice.

Meet the Author

Jincy Willett is a Rhode Island writer living in San Diego, California, and the author of the collection Jenny and the Jaws of Life, a St. Martin's Griffin paperback.

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Winner of the National Book Award: A Novel of Fame, Honor, and Really Bad Weather 3.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 8 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is original, witty, and humorous, but at the same time, both serious and sad. A must read for sisters and single women!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I needed a book to read on a train ride, so when I read 'Winner of the National Book Award' on the cover of this book, I hastily grabbed it, trusting that it would be a good read. It wasn't until later that I realized that this is the *name* of the book, and that no such accolades have been (or will be) awarded to this novel. It's tedious, predictable, and the characters are poorly written. And it's almost like the description and reviews on the jacket are about another book, too. I can think of very few lines in this book that could be classifed as 'dark humor' as the jacket boasts.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I thought this was really bad, and made worse by the fact that the writing is not bad. I found myself not really caring about the characters at all, as they were just caricatures. And that's not even trying to write it off to the fact that gang rape, anorexia, and domestic abuse are the main types of "humorous situations" covered. Maybe I just didn't "get it."
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I loved it! Coming across it in a little northern Europe library in a small collection of English language books, and lo oking for something to read other than my Kindle collection, it was a delicious and unexpected treat. I notice myself smiling as I write this at the memory of my surprise. She is a fantastic wordsmith - as I suppose you might expect from a creative writing teacher... but don't always get - and I am tempted to use some of her expressions in writing of my own, if it were not for the fact that she will probably be read by all my friends. "Plagiarist!" they will think. Ah well... Acerbic for sure, a bit of a meander at times, dark and incisive, characters so extreme and awful that you can only hope they are the product of her wicked imagination, good, solid dense writing. Pity she doesn't/hasn't write/written more...
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