Recommended Reading: Debut Fiction
Over the next month, PEN will be highlighting titles that have been longlisted for the 2014 PEN Literary Awards as a helpful guide for your summer reading. Check back for the latest features and insights every Monday and Thursday through June 18, when we’ll announce the awards shortlists.
Looking for some fresh new fiction for your beach bag? This year’s judges, Charles Bock, Jonathan Dee, Fiona Maazel, and Karen Shepard, chose these ten titles for their longlist for the PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize, which goes to an author of a debut work of fiction. Our judges enjoyed these titles and we hope you will too!
A History of the Present Illness (Bloomsbury), Louise Aronson
“One often sees in the media or hears about doctors as if it’s one thing: ‘The Doctor.’ Whereas really, there’s a huge diversity of doctors. On television you’ll get some of the inside scoop. I think I give more of an accurate inside scoop. Now, on television, you also get young doctors having sex in the bathroom, and I have that too. But I also think I give a more full depiction on what goes on behind the scenes and what goes on in training.” Louise Aronson talks about her book in depth here.
Middle Men (Simon & Schuster), Jim Gavin
“In the collection, ‘Bermuda,’ a story of young love, is totally autobiographical. I made a disastrous trip to Bermuda [to visit an estranged lover]. I was a young man, and the woman was older. It took me 10 years, and a lot of distance, to actually see it for what it really was, to get past it, and see the comic element of how clueless I was, or anyone at that age is. You think the world owes you something, and it just doesn’t work that way.” Jim Gavin opens up about his experiences in writing Middle Men to Interview Magazine.
Bogotá (TriQuarterly Books), Alan Grostephan
“In Bogotá, Grostephan’s nerve to tell a story, to not to give up on the integrity of each character’s story, distinguishes it for me as a rare book. It’s the kind of writing that compels me to show as much generosity as a reader, to follow [the characters] down muddy banks. Or into each others’ arms.” Students, professors, and alumni react to Grostephan’s reading at Knox College in Illinois. Read more here.
The Morels (Soho Press Inc.), Christopher Hacker
“Christopher Hacker’s debut novel, The Morels, feels a bit like that kind of a throw down. It’s a book that dares you not to like it—it is, in essence, a powerfully alienating story about the power of a story to alienate, a tale about the ways art can redeem and destroy, the pernicious probing of authorial intent, the fragility of families, and damage done that can’t be undone—or can it?” Lisa Peet at the Pocket Review gives insight to Hacker’s fiction.
A Constellation of Vital Phenomena (Hogarth), Anthony Marra
“My book, as mentioned, is about Chechnya. The most common question I’ve gotten is ‘Why Chechnya?’ It’s a region that’s come into the news recently… I began reading about it. I was really immediately struck by the kinds of stories of ordinary people persisting in extraordinary circumstances and retaining their humanity despite all these historical forces that were determined to strip them of it. They were stories that seemed to demand to be illuminated in fiction.” Anthony Marra explains his creative process at a reading at Politics and Prose Bookstore, Washington.
We All Sleep In the Same Room (Rare Bird Books, A Barnacle Book), Paul Rome
“We All Sleep in the Same Room follows four months in the life of Tom Claughlin, a union lawyer in his professional prime, who lives with his charming three year old son and wife of 21 years in a small, rent-stabilized one bedroom apartment in Union Square. As Tom revs up for a big case – getting a wronged clinic worker her job back – he finds himself spending more and more time with a young legal assistant at his law firm.” The Bushwick Daily reports on neighborhood resident Paul Rome’s new book.
Brief Encounters With the Enemy (The Dial Press), Saïd Sayrafiezadeh
“The opening story, ‘Cartography,’ is based most closely on my life. When I was in my early twenties I was pursued by a lecherous employer in a mapmaking firm. It was one of the first short stories I ever wrote, so it makes sense that I would adhere to true life events. As my writing progressed, though, imagination began to supplant experience, because there’s only so much experience one can draw from. But on some level, I’m sure I must relate to all the characters in the collection (even the lecherous boss!).” Read more from STET’s Q&A with Sayrafiezadeh here.
Buy a copy on Amazon or Indie Bound.
Everybody’s Irish (FiveChapters Books), Ian Stansel
“The book is not about being Irish at all. It isn’t even really about being Irish-American, though that’s perhaps getting closer. ‘Irish’ serves as a loose metaphor—though not explicitly—for those who struggle economically and, of course, emotionally (we are talking about literary fiction, after all).” Learn more about what the book is really about when Ian Stansel assigns a music playlist to his debut collection of short stories for Largehearted Boy.
Godforsaken Idaho (Little A/New Harvest), Shawn Vestal
“I think of the title as describing a kind of existential wasteland, a stage upon which the characters must try to grapple with their own lives in an absence of what they might want or hope for, in terms of help from on high. I love Idaho – sort of, in that mixed complicated way you love your home – and think that the actual Idaho is not a bleak existential wasteland any more than Des Moines is. Or any less, I guess.” See more of the interview at The Common Online.
The People in the Trees (Doubleday), Hanya Yanagihara
“Since finishing it, I haven’t stopped thinking about Hanya Yanagihara’s debut novel, The People in the Trees. It poses some crucial, uneasy questions, and at its heart asks: If a great man does awful things, is he still a great man? Yanagihara gives us in her main character, Nobel-winning scientist Dr. Norton Perina, an extremely flawed character to observe, and it is hard to look away from him.” Read the full review from The Washington Indepedent.