Capping off a week of longlist announcements—children's literature followed by poetry followed by nonfiction—the National Book Award has pulled the curtain on the nominees for fiction, its most anticipated award.
In staunch contrast to the poetry lineup, which was full of first-time nominees, fiction is stacked: as the organization notes, there are "four National Book Award winners and finalists, a Pulitzer Prize winner and finalist, recipients of a MacArthur Foundation fellowship and a Guggenheim fellowship, and a debut novelist." (Don't be intimidated, Anthony Marra. You're in good company.)
Leading the charge is the reclusive Thomas Pynchon, whose conspiracy-based literary return to New York City, Bleeding Edge, has been hailed as "the Thomas Pynchon novel for the Edward Snowden era." Pynchon took home the award for Gravity's Rainbow in 1974, but he's lain low on the award circuit since then.
He is notably joined by the Washington, D.C. novelist Alice McDermott, who has been nominated for the award twice and won once—for 1998's Charming Billy—and the acclaimed Indian-American writer Jhumpa Lahiri (pictured above), whose 1999 collection of stories, Interpreter of Maladies, garnered the author a Pulitzer Prize. Also included is George Saunders, the strange, wonderful fiction writer and essayist whose story collection, CivilWarLand in Bad Decline, first brought him acclaim.
As the Washington Post's Ron Charles notes, Anthony Marra appears to be the Rookie of the Year:
Washington-born Anthony Marra is living the beginning writer’s dream. “A Constellation of Vital Phenomena,” his debut novel about a brutally repressed village in Chechnya, received spectacular reviews earlier this year and is now a contender for the National Book Award.
It'd be a tremendous steal for Marra to snatch the award from names like Pynchon and Lahiri. Then again, it's tremendous enough for Marra to be on the list at all (and it's hard to imagine Pynchon paying enough attention to such earthly matters as awards to care).
The list is rounded out by Tom Drury, Elizabeth Graver, Rachel Kushner, James McBride, and Joan Silber. Here's the full thing.