The William Saroyan International Prize for Writing is given out every two years to new and emerging fiction and non-fiction writers. The fiction prize for 2014 went to Kiese Laymon for his novel Long Division, which came out last year. The novel, which I have not read yet, is about two boys named City, who both live in Mississippi, but one is from 2013 and the other from 1985. There is time travel involved and a “strange novel” which links the two boys together. It sounds like an original and engaging book, which also looks at life in Mississippi past and present.
I heard Laymon read from his collection of essays, How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America, at the Franklin Park reading series this spring. He was a great reader and his story was funny and moving. It is nice to see his debut novel getting some recognition.
I have found prize lists to be good places to discover new writers. The Saroyan shortlist has some titles on it you might want to explore.
By Katherine Faw Morris
Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 2014
A short blistering novel about a 13-year old girl, Nikki, who sets out to prove herself in rural North Carolina.
After Nikki’s mom accidentally dies while she is jumping off a waterfall, Nikki moves in with her dad, Coy Hawkins, who is just out of jail for dealing coke, and now deals in whores and heroin. They live together in a trailer outside of town and although she is only 13, Nikki dives right in to her father’s deviant lifestyle, in an attempt to outdo him in his own criminal ways.
The writing in this book is sharp and poetic. At only 20,000 words Morris is a master at distilling action and emotion. But this book is not for everyone. I would describe it as a rewriting of Winter’s Bone in which the dad is the one left behind. And in it we see all the trouble a girl can get into with a compassless father. The book got widely reviewed and is praised for its depiction of a girl who takes charge of her life. I agree that it does that, but at times the violence is so raw and senseless that it made me cringe. But I enjoyed the read for Morris’s poetic writing and her courage to let Nikki run wild.
Morris is from North Carolina and now lives in New York.
The Guardian First Book Award does a great job surfacing interesting debuts in both the fiction and non-fiction categories. The longlist came out last week. The winner will be announced in November. The 2013 winner was Donal Ryan for his unique novel, The Spinning Heart and in 2012 it went to Kevin Powers for The Yellow Birds, a book I reviewed last year and really loved.
You can view the complete 2014 longlist at the bottom of this Guardian article. Of the fiction titles, Zia Haider Rahman’s In the Light of What We Know and Fiona McFarlane’s The Night Guest have been widely reviewed. This was the first I had heard of Sarah Perry’s, After Me Comes the Flood, which was published by a small press in the UK (Serpent’s Tail) and tells the story of a man who, after his car breaks down, stumbles onto a home in the woods where he finds all of his belongings. The story is described as surreal and moving, reminiscent of Sebald.
On the non-fiction side, there was a memoir that stood out to me, Henry Marsh’s Do No Harm, which recounts his life and work as a neurosurgeon.
Happy summer reading all…a new review to come next week…