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Gilead

Pulitzer Prize for Fiction 2005

Author: Marilynne Robinson
Publisher: Picador; Reprint edition (2006)
Paperback: 247 pages
Language: English

In 1981, Marilynne Robinson wrote Housekeeping, which won the PEN/Hemingway Award and became a modern classic. Since then, she has written two pieces of nonfiction: Mother Country and The Death of Adam. With Gilead, we have, at last, another work of fiction. As with The Great Fire, Shirley Hazzard’s return, 22 years after The Transit of Venus, it was worth the long wait. Books such as these take time, and thought, and a certain kind of genius. There are no invidious comparisons to be made. Robinson’s books are unalike in every way but one: the same incisive thought and careful prose illuminate both.

The narrator, John Ames, is 76, a preacher who has lived almost all of his life in Gilead, Iowa. He is writing a letter to his almost seven-year-old son, the blessing of his second marriage. It is a summing-up, an apologia, a consideration of his life. Robinson takes the story away from being simply the reminiscences of one man and moves it into the realm of a meditation on fathers and children, particularly sons, on faith, and on the imperfectability of man.

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We Others: New & Selected Stories

The Story Prize Winner 2011

Author: Steven Millhauser
Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (2012)
Series: Vintage Contemporaries
Paperback: 400 pages
Language: English

From the Pulitzer Prize-winning author: the essential stories across three decades that showcase his indomitable imagination.

Possibly the most well-known of his short stories is Eisenheim the Illusionist, based on a pseudo-mythical tale of a magician who stunned audiences in Vienna in the latter part of the 19th century. It was made into the film, The Illusionist (2006).

Steven Millhauser’s fiction has consistently, and to dazzling effect, dissolved the boundaries between reality and fantasy, waking life and dreams, the past and the future, darkness and light, love and lust. The stories gathered here unfurl in settings as disparate as nineteenth-century Vienna, a contemporary Connecticut town, the corridors of a monstrous museum, and Thomas Edison’s laboratory, and they are inhabited by a wide-ranging cast of characters, including a knife thrower and teenage boys, ghosts and a cartoon cat and mouse. But all of the stories are united in their unfailing power to surprise and enchant. From the earliest to the stunning, previously unpublished novella-length title story — in which a man who is dead, but not quite gone, reaches out to two lonely women — Millhauser in this magnificent collection carves out ever more deeply his wondrous place in the American literary canon.

The Lives of Rocks

The Story Prize Finalist 2006

Author: Rick Bass
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (2006)
Hardcover: 224 pages
Language: English

Nature is as much a character in this sterling collection of 10 short stories as are any of the oddly off-center but otherwise endearing people who inhabit it. Bass writes with concern about the environment (Caribou Rising), and that same passion infuses his fiction (The Hermit’s Story). In Titan, a man recalls an awesome and awful day in his boyhood when freshwater rivers and streams, engorged by sudden heavy rains, surged into the ocean off the Alabama coast, stunning saltwater fish so they could be scooped up by the thousands. The teenage boys of Pagans squeeze inside a diving bell to plunge into a river so polluted it bursts into flame; in Fiber, a former writer and environmental activist gathers deadfall trees and, as the «log fairy,» sneaks the best onto the trucks of other wildcat loggers so they’ll cut down fewer trees. And in the elegiac title story, a geologist weak from cancer treatments relies on children from a rigidly fundamentalist family for winter wood; they are happy to help, until she teaches them that the Earth is millions of years old. These graceful stories are connected through Bass’s invocation of elemental forces, but at the same time each is deliciously distinct.

The Electric Michelangelo

Man Booker Prize Finalist 2004

Author: Sarah Hall
Publisher: Harper Perennial (2005)
Series: P.S.
Paperback: 368 pages
Language: English

Cy Parks is The Electric Michelangelo, an artist of extraordinary gifts whose medium happens to be the pliant, shifting canvas of the human body. Fleeing his mother’s legacy – a consumptives’ hotel in a fading English seaside resort – Cy reinvents himself in the incandescent honky-tonk of Coney Island in its heyday between the two world wars. Amid the carnival decadence of freak shows and roller coasters, enchanters and enigmas, scam artists and marks, Cy will find his muse: an enigmatic circus beauty who surrenders her body to his work, but whose soul tantalizingly eludes him.

This P.S. edition features an extra 16 pages of insights into the book, including author interviews, recommended reading, and more.

Madeleine Is Sleeping

National Book Award Finalist 2004

Author: Sarah Shun-lien Bynum
Publisher: Mariner Books; Reprint edition (2005)
Series: Harvest Book
Paperback: 276 pages
Language: English

When a girl falls into a deep and impenetrable sleep, the borders between her provincial French village and the peculiar, beguiling realm of her dreams begin to disappear: a fat woman sprouts delicate wings and takes flight; a failed photographer stumbles into the role of pornographer; a beautiful young wife grows to resemble her husband’s viol. And in their midst travels Madeleine, the dreamer, who is trying to make sense of her own metamorphosis as she leaves home, joins a gypsy circus, and falls into an unexpected triangle of desire and love.

An extraordinary debut, Madeleine Is Sleeping received jubilant critical acclaim and was honored with a National Book Award nomination. Part fairy tale, part coming-of-age story, this «dream of a book» (Michael Cunningham) is an adventure in the discovery of art, sexuality, community, and the self.

Memory Wall

The Story Prize Finalist 2010

Author: Anthony Doerr
Publisher: Scribner (2011)
Paperback: 288 pages
Language: English

From an award-winning and extraordinarily eloquent author whose «prose dazzles» (The New York Times Book Review) comes a second stunning collection.

Set on four continents, Anthony Doerr’s new stories are about memory, the source of meaning and coherence in our lives, the fragile thread that connects us to ourselves and to others. Every hour, says Doerr, all over the globe, an infinite number of memories disappear. Yet at the same time children, surveying territory that is entirely new to them, push back the darkness, form fresh memories, and remake the world.

In the luminous and beautiful title story, a young boy in South Africa comes to possess an old woman’s secret, a piece of the past with the power to redeem a life. In The River Nemunas, a teenage orphan moves from Kansas to Lithuania to live with her grandfather, and discovers a world in which myth becomes real. Village 113, winner of an O’Henry Prize, is about the building of the Three Gorges Dam and the seed keeper who guards the history of a village soon to be submerged. And in Afterworld, the radiant, cathartic final story, a woman who escaped the Holocaust is haunted by visions of her childhood friends in Germany, yet finds solace in the tender ministrations of her grandson.

Every story in Memory Wall is a reminder of the grandeur of life – of the mysterious beauty of seeds, of fossils, of sturgeon, of clouds, of radios, of leaves, of the breathtaking fortune of living in this universe. Doerr’s language, his witness, his imagination, and his humanity are unparalleled in fiction today.

The Gardens of Kyoto

From Pushcart Prize and O. Henry Award winner

Author: Kate Walbert
Publisher: Simon & Schuster (2002)
Paperback: 288 pages
Language: English

The Gardens of Kyoto is based on author’s award winning (Pushcart Prize and O. Henry Award) story with the same name, this masterful first novel establishes Walbert as a writer of astonishing elegance and power.

Exceeding the promise of her New York Times Notable Book debut, Kate Walbert brings her prizewinning «painter’s eye and poet’s voice» (The Hartford Courant) to a mesmerizing story of war, romance, and grief.

«I had a cousin, Randall, killed on Iwo Jima. Have I told you?» So begins Kate Walbert’s beautiful and heart-breaking novel about a young woman, Ellen, coming of age in the long shadow of World War II. Forty years later she relates the events of this period, beginning with the death of her favorite cousin, Randall, with whom she had shared Easter Sundays, secrets, and, perhaps, love. In an isolated, aging Maryland farmhouse that once was a stop on the Underground Railroad, Randall had grown up among ghosts: his father, Sterling, present only in body; his mother, dead at a young age; and the apparitions of a slave family. When Ellen receives a package after Randall’s death, containing his diary and a book called The Gardens of Kyoto, her bond to him is cemented, and the mysteries of his short life start to unravel.

Let It Come Down

Author: Paul Bowles
Publisher: Harper Perennial (2006)
Paperback: 304 pages
Language: English

In Let It Come Down, Paul Bowles plots the doomed trajectory of Nelson Dyar, a New York bank teller who comes to Tangier in search of a different life and ends up giving in to his darkest impulses. Rich in descriptions of the corruption and decadence of the International Zone in the last days before Moroccan independence, Bowles’s second novel is an alternately comic and horrific account of a descent into nihilism.

Holy Skirts: A Novel of a Flamboyant Woman Who Risked All for Art

Author: Rene Steinke
Publisher: Harper Perennial (2005)
Series: P.S.
Paperback: 384 pages
Language: English

No one in 1917 New York had ever encountered a woman like the Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven – poet, artist, proto-punk rocker, sexual libertine, fashion avatar, and unrepentant troublemaker. When she wasn’t stalking the streets of Greenwich Village wearing a brassiere made from tomato cans, she was enthusiastically declaiming her poems to sailors in beer halls or posing nude for Man Ray or Marcel Duchamp. In an era of brutal war, technological innovation, and cataclysmic change, the Baroness had resolved to create her own destiny – taking the center of the Dadaist circle, breaking every bond of female propriety. . . and transforming herself into a living, breathing work of art.