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LA Times Book Prize Nominees - Fictionally First

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The beauty of the LA Times Book Prizes is that there's an uncertainty surrounding the nominees and the outcome. Unlike other book awards given throughout the year (National Book Awards, we're looking at you) there's never a shoo-in, never an author or a book that everyone "just knows" will take home the prize. For the most part. Sometimes. See?

Here's a quick look at the nominees in the First Fiction category and our take on the books, their authors, the front-runners and outliers. All subject to the madcap results that are the LA Times Book Prizes, of course.

In the First Fiction category, we have the following nominees:
An Elegy for Easterly by Petina Gappah
Tinkers by Paul Harding
American Rust by Philipp Meyer
In Other Rooms, Other Wonders by Daniyal Mueenuddin
Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned by Wells Tower

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In Daniyal Mueenuddin's gorgeously subtle, perfectly spare collection of eight linked stories about an extended family of Pakistani landowners, we are able to see characters struggling with the norms Pakistani society has placed on them. We are huge suckers for linked stories and these are so well done it took our breath away. Other Rooms, Other Wonders just won a slew of prizes (including the Story Prize) and was a finalist for the National Book Award, so many folks believe he is the favorite to win in this category. A recent congratulatory tweet about his Story win got a ton of RTs...so there's your unscientific polling on his chances. If there was a shoo-in in this category, Mueenuddin's book is it.

We can't, however, count out another short story collection favorite - Wells Tower's Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned. If you've read it, you loved it. Right? If not, please, please tell us why not. Where Mueenuddin's language is goregous and evocative, Tower's writing cuts straight to the point. He uses the in-your-face, no-bones-about-it language of his charmingly messed up characters and the result is a collection of stories that has you rooting for men you never imagined you could side with and hoping for their happiness in ways you hadn't intended. Tower's collection was a finalizist for the Story award that Mueenuddin won, so you can bet this will be a close race.

What of the other nominated First Fiction books? Harding's Tinkers tells the story of a dying grandfather confined to his living room. In his last days with his family, he examines his life and in doing so, somehow helps the reader examine their own. This is a stunning & spare book. It would delight us a great deal if this crazy good book won.

Philipp Meyer's Steinbeckian American Rust struck a chord with many, but wasn't our favorite. It could have been the subject matter - an economically devastated steel town in Pennsylvania, characters involved in intense violence - but it was too bleak for us to properly delve into. It has been listed atop nearly every 2009 notable book list so this dark novel may have a shot.

Rounding out the nominees is another short story collection that just might steal the prize with its stories of Zimbabweans struggling to live under the Robert Mugabe regime. Petina Gappah's An Elegy for Easterly deftly takes us inside the personal struggles of the elite as well as the down-and-out and gives readers a bittersweet taste of the ugliness and beauty of life, along with all the nuances in between.

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These first books encompass a broad range of writing styles and subject matters, as any good book prize list of nominees should. 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.