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The Angel Esmeralda

The Story Prize Finalist 2011

Author: Don DeLillo
Publisher: Scribner; Reprint edition (2012)
Paperback: 224 pages
Language: English

Set in Greece, the Caribbean, Manhattan, a white-collar prison and outer space, this “small masterpiece of short fiction” (USA Today) is a mesmerizing introduction to Don DeLillo’s iconic voice. In Creation, a couple at the end of a cruise somewhere in the West Indies can’t get off the island — flights canceled, unconfirmed reservations, a dysfunctional economy. In Human Moments in World War III, two men orbiting the earth, charged with gathering intelligence and reporting to Colorado Command, hear the voices of American radio, from a half century earlier. In the title story, Sisters Edgar and Grace, nuns working the violent streets of the South Bronx, confirm the neighborhood’s miracle, the apparition of a dead child, Esmeralda.

Nuns, astronauts, athletes, terrorists and travelers, the characters in The Angel Esmeralda propel themselves into the world and define it. These nine stories describe an extraordinary journey of one great writer whose prescience about world events and ear for American language changed the literary landscape.

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.

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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Tenth of December

National Book Award Finalist 2013

NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY
People • The New York Times Magazine • NPR • Entertainment Weekly • New York • BuzzFeed • Kirkus Reviews • BookPage • Shelf Awareness

Author: George Saunders
Publisher: Random House Trade Paperbacks (2014)
Paperback: 288 pages
Language: English

One of the most important and blazingly original writers of his generation, George Saunders is an undisputed master of the short story, and Tenth of December is his most honest, accessible, and moving collection yet.

Writing brilliantly and profoundly about class, sex, love, loss, work, despair, and war, Saunders cuts to the core of the contemporary experience. These stories take on the big questions and explore the fault lines of our own morality, delving into the questions of what makes us good and what makes us human.

Unsettling, insightful, and hilarious, the stories in Tenth of December — through their manic energy, their focus on what is redeemable in human beings, and their generosity of spirit — not only entertain and delight; they fulfill Chekhov’s dictum that art should «prepare us for tenderness».

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.

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.

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.

Lark and Termite

National Book Award Finalist 2009

Author: Jayne Anne Phillips
Publisher: Knopf; Later prt. edition (2009)
Hardcover: 272 pages
Language: English

A rich, wonderfully alive novel from one of our most admired and best-loved writers, her first book in nine years. Lark and Termite is set during the 1950s in West Virginia and Korea. It is a story of the power of loss and love, the echoing ramifications of war, family secrets, dreams and ghosts, and the unseen, almost magical bonds that unite and sustain us.

At its center, two children: Lark, on the verge of adulthood, and her brother, Termite, a child unable to walk and talk but filled with radiance. Around them, their mother, Lola, a haunting but absent presence; their aunt Nonie, a matronly, vibrant woman in her fifties, who raises them; and Termite’s father, Corporal Robert Leavitt, who finds himself caught up in the chaotic early months of the Korean War.

Told with deep feeling, the novel invites us to enter into the hearts and thoughts of the leading characters, even into Termite’s intricate, shuttered consciousness. We are with Leavitt, trapped by friendly fire alongside the Korean children he tries to rescue. We see Lark’s dreams for Termite and her own future, and how, with the aid of a childhood love and a spectral social worker, she makes them happen. We learn of Lola’s love for her soldier husband and her children, and unravel the mystery of her relationship with Nonie. We discover the lasting connections between past and future on the night the town experiences an overwhelming flood, and we follow Lark and Termite as their lives are changed forever.

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.