2017 First Novel Prize

The Short List for

the 2017 Center for Fiction First Novel Prize

 

 


 

As Lie Is to Grin 

by Simeon Marsalis

(Catapult)

 

David, the narrator of Simeon Marsalis's singular first novel, is a freshman at the University of Vermont who is struggling to define himself against the white backdrop of his school. He is also mourning the loss of his New York girlfriend, Melody, whose grandfather's alma mater he has chosen to attend. When David met Melody, he told her he lived with his drug-addicted single mother in Harlem, a more intriguing story than his own. This lie haunts and almost unhinges him as he attempts to find his true voice and identity. On campus in Vermont, David imagines encounters with a student from the past who might represent either Melody's grandfather or Jean Toomer, the author of the acclaimed Harlem Renaissance novel, Cane (1923). When Melody and her father collude with the intent to meet David's mother in Harlem―craving what they consider an authentic experience of the black world―their plan ends explosively. The title of this impressive and emotionally powerful novel is inspired by Paul Laurence Dunbar's poem "We Wear the Mask" (1896): "We wear the mask that grins and lies...."

 


 

Empire of Glass 

by Kaitlin Solimine

(Ig Publishing)

 

In the mid-1990s, an American teenager, named Lao K in Chinese, stands on Coal Hill, a park in Beijing, a loop of rope in her hand. Will she assist her Chinese homestay mother, Li-Ming, who is dying of cancer, in ending her life, or will she choose another path? Twenty years later, Lao K receives a book written by Li-Ming called “Empire of Glass,” a narrative that chronicles the lives of Li-Ming and her husband, Wang, in pre and post-revolutionary China over the last half of the twentieth century. Lao K begins translating the story, which becomes the novel we are reading. A grand, experimental epic that chronicles the seismic changes in China over the last half century through the lens of one family’s experiences, Empire of Glass pushes the boundaries of language and form in stunning and unforgettable ways.

 

 


 

Mikhail and Margarita 

by Julie Lekstrom Himes

(Europa Editions)

 

It is 1933 and Mikhail Bulgakov's enviable career is on the brink of being dismantled. His friend and mentor, the poet Osip Mandelstam, has been arrested, tortured, and sent into exile. Meanwhile, a mysterious agent of the secret police has developed a growing obsession with exposing Bulgakov as an enemy of the state. To make matters worse, Bulgakov has fallen in love with the dangerously outspoken Margarita. Facing imminent arrest, infatuated with Margarita, he is inspired to write his masterpiece, The Master and Margarita, a satirical novel that is scathingly critical of power and the powerful. 

 


 

The Second Mrs. Hockaday 

by Susan Rivers

(Algonquin Books)

 

When Major Gryffth Hockaday is called to the front lines of the Civil War, his new bride is left to care for her husband’s three-hundred-acre farm and infant son. Placidia, a mere teenager herself living far from her family and completely unprepared to run a farm or raise a child, must endure on her own. By the time Major Hockaday returns two years later, Placidia is bound for jail, accused of having borne a child in his absence and murdering it. Inspired by a true incident, this saga conjures the era with uncanny immediacy. A love story, a story of racial divide, and a story of the South as it fell in the war, The Second Mrs. Hockaday reveals how that generation--and the next--began to see their world anew.

 

 


 

Spaceman of Bohemia

by Jaroslav Kalfar

(Little, Brown)

 

Orphaned as a boy, raised in the Czech countryside by his doting grandparents, Jakub Procházka has risen from small-time scientist to become the country's first astronaut. When a dangerous solo mission into space offers him both the chance at heroism he's dreamt of, and a way to atone for his father's sins as a Communist informer, he ventures boldly into the vast unknown. But in so doing, he leaves behind his devoted wife, Lenka, whose love, he realizes too late, he has sacrificed on the altar of his ambitions. 

 


 

Tiger Pelt

by Annabelle Kim

(Leaf~Land)

 

Tiger Pelt is a story of rebirth from the rubble of a savage time and a ravaged place: Korea during the Japanese occupation followed by the Korean War. A farm boy embarks on a quest that propels him on an odyssey spanning the Korean peninsula and crossing the Pacific. In a parallel life, a beautiful young girl is kidnapped and forced to work as a comfort woman for the Japanese military. During a raging monsoon, the two souls will collide in a near-death encounter that will alter the course of their lives.

 


 

What to Do About the Solomons

by Bethany Ball

(Atlantic Monthly Press)

 

Meet Marc Solomon, an Israeli ex-Navy commando now living in L.A., who is falsely accused of money laundering through his asset management firm. As the Solomons’ Santa Monica home is raided, Marc’s American wife, Carolyn—concealing her own dark past—makes hopeless attempts to hold their family of five together. But news of the scandal makes its way from America to the rest of the Solomon clan on the kibbutz in the Jordan River Valley. There we encounter various members of the family and the community—from Marc’s self-absorbed movie actress sister, Shira, and her forgotten son Joseph; to his rich and powerful construction magnate father, Yakov; to his former star-crossed love, Maya; and his brother-in-law Guy Gever, a local ranger turned “artist.” As the secrets and rumors of the kibbutz are revealed through various memories and tales, we witness the things that keep the Solomons together, and those that tear them apart.

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About Our First Novel Prize

 

The Center for Fiction's First Novel Prize is awarded to the best debut novel published between January 1 and December 31 of the award year. The author of the winning book is awarded $10,000 and each shortlisted author recieves $1,000.The winner will be announced at The Center for Fiction’s Annual Benefit and Awards Dinner held on December 5th this year.  

 

This year's judges are: Sonya Chung, Anne Landsman, Fiona Maazel, Rick Moody, and Kia Corthron, who won the 2016 Prize for her debut novel The Castle Cross the Magnet Carter.