Throughout this week, the longlists for the 2019 National Book Awards are being announced, with the selection of finalists in each of five categories—Young People’s Literature, Translated Literature, Poetry, Nonfiction, and Fiction. This morning, we present the final longlist, for the category of Fiction.
Fleishman Is in Trouble, by Taffy Brodesser-Akner
Toby Fleishman thought he knew what to expect when he and his wife of almost fifteen years separated: weekends and every other holiday with the kids and the occasional moment of tension in their co-parenting negotiations. He could not have predicted that one day, Rachel would just drop their two children off at his place and simply not return. As Toby tries to figure out where Rachel went, his tidy narrative of the spurned husband is his sole consolation. But if Toby ever wants to truly understand what happened to Rachel and what happened to his marriage, he is going to have to consider that he might not have seen things all that clearly in the first place.
Trust Exercise, by Susan Choi
An Indie Next pick named to 11 best book lists in 2018, Trust Exercise is set in the 1980s at a highly competitive suburban performing arts high school, Trust Exercise will incite heated discussions about fiction and truth, friendships and loyalties, and will leave readers with wiser understandings of the true capacities of adolescents and the powers and responsibilities of adults.
Sabrina & Corina: Stories, by Kali Fajardo-Anstine
Kali Fajardo-Anstine’s magnetic debut story collection breathes life into her Indigenous Latina characters and the land they inhabit. Set against the remarkable backdrop of Denver, Colorado–a place that is as fierce as it is exquisite–these women navigate the land the way they navigate their own lives: with caution, grace, and quiet force. Sabrina and Corina is a moving exploration of the universal experiences of abandonment, friendships and mother-daughter relationships, and the deep-rooted truths of our homelands and the people who inhabit it.
Black Leopard, Red Wolf, by Marlon James
Tracker is known far and wide for his skills as a hunter: “He has a nose,” people say. Engaged to track down a mysterious boy who disappeared three years earlier, Tracker breaks his own rule of always working alone when he finds himself part of a group that comes together to search for the boy. The band is a hodgepodge, full of unusual characters with secrets of their own, including a shape-shifting man-animal known as Leopard. As Tracker follows the boy’s scent—from one ancient city to another; into dense forests and across deep rivers—he and the band are set upon by creatures intent on destroying them. As he struggles to survive, Tracker starts to wonder: Who, really, is this boy? Why has he been missing for so long? Why do so many people want to keep Tracker from finding him? And perhaps the most important questions of all: Who is telling the truth, and who is lying? Listen to Marlon James discuss the novel on the B&N Podcast.
The Other Americans, by Laila Lalami
Late one spring night, Driss Guerraoui, a Moroccan immigrant living in California, is walking across a darkened intersection when he is killed by a speeding car. The repercussions of his death bring together a diverse cast of characters: Guerraoui’s daughter Nora, a jazz composer who returns to the small town in the Mojave she thought she’d left for good; his widow, Maryam, who still pines after her life in the old country; Efraín, an undocumented witness whose fear of deportation prevents him from coming forward; Jeremy, an old friend of Nora’s and an Iraq War veteran; Coleman, a detective who is slowly discovering her son’s secrets; Anderson, a neighbor trying to reconnect with his family; and the murdered man himself. As the characters—deeply divided by race, religion, and class—tell their stories, connections among them emerge, even as Driss’s family confronts its secrets, a town faces its hypocrisies, and love, messy and unpredictable, is born.
Black Light: Stories, by Kimberly King Parsons
Celebrated by author Carmen Maria Machado (Her Body and Other Parties) as “grimy and weird, surprising, utterly lush,” the stories in this debut collection burn with feminist fire and passionate anger. Per the publisher, these are stories exploring “ache of first love, the banality of self-loathing, the scourge of addiction, the myth of marriage, and the magic and inevitable disillusionment of childhood.” “Foxes” intertwines the stories of a woman’s divorce and her daughter’s daydreams involving noble knights and their mysterious enemies; one tale soon begins to blend into the other. In “Soft No,” two siblings must grapple with the politics of their neighborhood, but face equal challenges at home from their erratic mother. And in “Black Light,” a woman witnesses a lost lover transform into someone seemingl entirely different, even as she tries to hide her own secrets amid another breakup. These are powerfully intimate stories, precisely told.
The Need, by Helen Phillips
Acclaimed as one of the year’s best books by The New York Times, Oprah Magazine, and Lithub, among others, this chilling speculative novel from the author of The Beautiful Bureaucrat is a ornately composed thriller with a surreal edge. It follows scientist Molly Nye in the aftermath of a truly unnerving discovery during a routine fossil dig—she and her colleagues find not only evidence of previously unknown types of plant species, but a host of random, inexplicable objects that seem ripped from another reality: including a strange toy soldier, a Coke bottle with an off-kilter logo, and a Bible that refers to God as a woman. As the discovery draws gawkers to the excavation site, Molly’s life threatens to come off of its hinges, as she is pursued by a figure that seems to know her most intimate secrets. It’s a moving and metafictional exploration of the ways we all are done and undone by time—literary fiction with a science-fictional edge.
Disappearing Earth, by Julia Phillips
In this intense, original, must-read debut, two sisters vanish from the Kamchatka peninsula in Russia, and over the course of twelve chapters (each representing a month in the year that follows), readers will come to know the female denizens of the isolated, shoreline community as they respond in very different ways to the crime. From the girls’ mother, to witnesses, detectives, and other possible victims, every character is vividly rendered, as are the locations and histories that wind around the story like vines.
On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, by Ocean Vuong
This nonlinear roman à clef debut from a critically lauded poet is written as though from a son to his illiterate mother. It depicts a family history of intergenerational abuse mixed with fierce love. The letter writer, known as Little Dog, feels like an outsider in a variety of ways. As a teenager, he emigrated to America from Vietnam with the three women who make up his world: mother, grandmother, and aunt, each traumatized by the Vietnam War. As a young gay man, and the first of his family to attend college, he attempts to reconcile the violence of the past with a future that won’t hold still or accommodate narrative conclusions. In short, it’s like real life: messy, tragic, lovely, and painful all at once. Listen to Ocean Vuong discuss the novel on the B&N Podcast.
The Nickel Boys, by Colson Whitehead
Colson Whitehead won the 2016 National Book Award for Underground Railroad (which also took home the Pulitzer Prize). A difficult act to follow, but Nickel Boys is up to the challenge. It follows two philosophically opposed black students at notorious reform school the Nickel Academy in the Jim Crow South of the early 1960s. Though the school claims to turn delinquents into “honorable and honest men,” via “physical, intellectual and moral training,” in truth it’s an appalling place, full of corruption and abuse of every type. Elwood Curtis tries to emulate his hero, Dr. King, during the hellish interment, as a means of keeping his own humanity close, but his friend Turner is more cynical about the world. The boys’ disparate survival techniques culminate in a plan that will impact the rest of their lives. Listen to Colson Whitehead discuss the novel on the B&N Podcast.
The 2019 National Book Award winners will be announced on November 20.