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LA Times Book Prize Nominees - Fiction We Loved & Fiction We Couldn't Finish

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LA Times Book Prize Nominees for Fiction


LA Times Book Prize Nominees for Fiction
We're back to our favorite odds-guessing hobby at this time of year - pondering aloud (with little precision and with great skepticism) which LA Times Book Prize Finalists will take home the cake when awards are handed out April 23rd.

Here's our not-so-scientific take on the nominees in the Fiction category and our guesses at what might go down on awards night, including the buzz about a few books in particular.

In the Fiction category, we have the following finalists:

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Heroic Measures by Jill Ciment
The Man in the Wooden Hat by Jane Gardam
Blame by Michelle Huneven
A Short History of Women by Kate Walbert
A Happy Marriage by Rafael Yglesias

Let's cut to the chase: all the buzz is about Michelle Huneven's Blame. It was a National Book Critics Circle Award Finalist and her first novel, Round Rock, was adored in the Los Angeles Times Book Review. Also: the plotting is spectacular. As in: stay up all night to read it in one sitting just so you can see what will happen to Patsy MacLemoore, alcoholic of the highest order, who wakes up in jail to learn that on her last bender, she left behind a body count. It's dark, it's written beautifully, and even though it treads over well-worn Alcoholics Anonymous (and all the guilt that comes with that) themes, it's well-done. Given all that, Blame may take home the prize.

Jill Ciment's Heroic Measures is the tale of an older couple who've learned their dog's back legs have become paralyzed on the same day they are having an open-house to sell their apartment and on the same day a potential gasoline tanker "terrorist" is eluding law enforcement in the city and escalating tensions in a post-911 New York. Sound a bit unlikely? Far-fetched? Readers & reviewers either loved this book or hated it, either gave into the madcap nature of the tale or dismissed it entirely as unconvincing. We're dog-lovers at heart, so +1 for the dog storyline. We also dig the way Ciment focuses on the small, odd details of ordinary life. These details carried us through the less-plausible portions, but we're not sure our dog-loving bent & fondness for random life minutia is enough to place Heroic Measures in the "win" category later this month.

We're even less enthused about Kate Walbert's A Short History of Women, despite high praise from nearly every corner. The novel examines the brief life of British Feminist Dorothy Townsend, who starves herself to death to call attention to women's rights in 1914, and the effects that had on the two children she left behind. It's a complicated brew of mother/daughter relationships that spans several generations and, truth be told, we didn't finish it. While that's certainly our fault and not Walbert's, we can't get behind it for the win.

A Happy Marriage by Rafael Yglesias also spans several decades and centers around the life of an incredible woman and her eventual death. The twist here is that the character was modeled on the author's own wife, who died in 2004. That personal history intertwines with the fictional one and whether the novel moves you at all becomes difficult to separate from the real-life events. The net result is that with every examination of what it means to love and to live and to die, the reader is acutely aware that Yglesias is exploring his own emotional landscape and his own reaction to his wife's death in every page. This makes for a haunting tale, though not an entirely successful one.

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So who are we rooting for in this category? Our hopes are pinned on Jane Gardam's The Man in the Wooden Hat. Why? We dig the revival of her crazy funny, crazily endearing Sir Edward Feathers character (first introduced in her excellent 2004 novel Old Filth) and love that this time around, we see his life not through his own eyes but through his wife's. This is what interesting relationship minutia looks like when done well. Read together, Old Filth and The Man in the Wooden Hat are a perfect compliment to each other - not just because they represent both perspectives in a relationship, but because you'll spend half your time reading The Man in the Wooden Hat and remembering how a certain detail or scene links back to one in Old Filth. Should a book win a prize just because it so successfully links to a previous novel? Probably not and we know it's a long shot. But...it would be oh so cool if Gardam won.

As with every category, it will be interesting to see who takes the prize and we'll be sure to report winners and reactions when prizes are announced on April 23rd. Do you have a favorite book in contention? A beloved book that should have been nominated and wasn't? Let us know in the comments.