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2012 Oregon Book Awards: Judge’s comments in Fiction

Friday, August 31, 2012 is the deadline to submit books for consideration for the 2013 Oregon Book Awards. The guidelines and applications can be found on our web site; contact Susan Denning for more information.

Philip Lopate was the judge in fiction for the 2012 Oregon Book Awards. He has written ten books, including the novels The Rug Merchant and Two Marriages, and is a Professor of Writing at Columbia University. Lopate has been awarded a John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship, a New York Public Library Center for Scholars and Writers Fellowship, two National Endowment for the Arts grants, and two New York Foundation for the Arts grants.

Here are Philip Lopate’s comments on the 2012 Oregon Book Awards finalists for the Ken Kesey Award for Fiction:

You Don’t Love This Man by Dan DeWeese
“This beautifully nuanced, psychologically rich character study of a decent man who is often blind to the feelings he generates in others achieves a stereoscopic depth by aligning past and present via alternating chapters. How well we come to know, and to sympathize with, the protagonist-narrator as he gets ready to give away his beloved daughter to a man his own age he profoundly mistrusts. The fine-grained, compassionate observation of everyday behaviors raises the novel’s careful prose to a high level, as we are treated to one shock of recognition after another about the way we live now.”

The Sisters Brothers by Patrick DeWitt
“This wildly inventive, brazenly funny, and oddly touching novel is an historical Western that deserves to become a classic. The book strings together in picaresque fashion the adventures and misadventures of a pair of hired killers who also happen to be brothers: one, the narrator, is the increasingly reluctant follower of his confident if sociopathic older brother, and it is this narrator’s curse or blessing that he keeps trying to make sense of the disorder and violence swirling around him—that he can’t stop trying to think for himself. As a fictional duo on the road, they fit nicely into the grand tradition of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, Jacques the Fatalist and his Master, and so on. Every page contains surprises, fresh touches and felicities, in a supremely controlled tone that is sardonic but not mean-spirited, and always a pleasure to read.”

Mink River by Brian Doyle
“This leisurely, amiable novel by a master prose stylist gently pokes around a town and its interlocking relationships. The townspeople are tied together not only by past histories and present concerns but by an acute feeling for the land. Here, landscape and animal life are never far from the surface. The book amasses an accumulated power as its ensemble of destinies cleverly unfolds. There are lyrical, stream-of-consciousness passages of stunning beauty, alone worth the ride.”

Chloe Jarren’s La Cucaracha by Matthew Stadler
“From first page to last, readers will know they are in the hands of a confident, brilliantly skillful fiction writer, as he sets about weaving a complex murder mystery. The intricate plot (loosely derived from a John LeCarre novel) is finally less the point than the witty observations and character analyses, especially of minor characters, along the way. Best of all is the rendering of a specific place, Guanajuato, Mexico, in all its glamour and squalor. Local politics and the global economy are both intelligently dissected from a knowing, disenchanted perspective in this worldly novel.”


Zazen by Vanessa Veselka
“The triumph of this dazzlingly talented first novel is to combine the mundane world of slacker counter-culture with the apocalyptic futurism of science fiction. A briskly satiric eye is brought to bear on the malaise of young people trying to figure out their own identities in the long and short haul. The novel’s language is charged, alive and invigorating. A book at once funny and tender, it respects its characters’ confusions as much as it mocks them.”

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