National Book Critics Circle Award - Fiction

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  • Ragtime by E. L. Doctorow

    Set in the early 20th century, this novel intertwines the lives of fictional characters with real historical figures, creating a vivid portrayal of America's past. The narrative follows the lives of an upper-class family in New Rochelle, New York, an African-American musician from Harlem, and a Jewish immigrant and his daughter, while also featuring historical figures like Harry Houdini, J.P. Morgan, and Henry Ford. The novel explores themes of wealth, race, and class, against a backdrop of significant historical events, such as the onset of World War I and the rise of the labor movement.

  • October Light by John Gardner

    "October Light" is a story set in Vermont, revolving around an elderly brother and sister, James and Sally, who have lived together for decades but have a strained relationship due to their differing views. When James locks Sally in her room after an argument, she finds a novel within a novel, which becomes her only escape. The book explores themes of aging, isolation, and the clash of old and new values, all the while providing a commentary on the changing American society of the 1970s.

  • Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison

    The novel explores the life of an African-American man, Macon "Milkman" Dead III, from birth to adulthood. Set against the backdrop of racial tension in the mid-20th century United States, it delves into his journey of self-discovery and understanding his heritage. As Macon embarks on a literal and figurative journey south to reconnect with his roots, he encounters various characters that help him understand his family history and the power of community. The narrative is deeply rooted in African-American folklore and mythology, offering a profound commentary on identity, personal freedom, and the destructive power of racism.

  • The Stories of John Cheever by John Cheever

    This collection of short stories provides an intimate look into the lives of individuals living in the American suburbs during the mid-20th century. The narratives often center around themes of love, loss, and the pursuit of the American dream, painting a vivid picture of the human condition. The characters are typically middle-class individuals dealing with personal crises, existential dread, and the often harsh realities of everyday life. The stories are renowned for their ability to capture the essence of post-war America, with all of its beauty, despair, and complexity.

  • The Year of the French by Thomas Flanagan

    "The Year of the French" is a historical novel set during the Irish Rebellion of 1798. The story provides a detailed account of the events leading up to the rebellion, the rebellion itself, and its aftermath, through the eyes of different characters from various social classes. The narrative explores the complex relationships between the Irish rebels, the British forces, and the French troops who came to aid the Irish, and the tragic consequences of their clash.

  • The Transit of Venus by Shirley Hazzard

    The novel follows the lives of two orphaned Australian sisters, Caroline and Grace Bell, who move to England in the post-World War II era. The story revolves around their relationships, particularly Caroline's complex and often tragic love life. The narrative is filled with themes of love, fate, time, and the intricate complexities of human relationships, all set against the backdrop of significant historical events.

  • Rabbit Is Rich by John Updike

    The book follows the life of a former high school basketball star, who is now in his mid-forties and has inherited a Toyota dealership from his father-in-law. He is living a comfortable life with his wife and son in Brewer, Pennsylvania during the late 1970s. The story unfolds as he navigates through his midlife crisis, dealing with his rebellious son, his longing for his old mistress, and his own insecurities and dissatisfaction. The narrative provides a deep dive into the protagonist's thoughts and feelings, offering a detailed examination of middle-class American life during this era.

  • George Mills by Stanley Elkin

    This novel follows the story of George Mills, a character cursed by his lineage to be an eternal servant, a fate passed down from generation to generation for a thousand years. The narrative explores the trials and tribulations of Mills as he navigates his life, dealing with his inherited servitude and the societal changes around him. The book delves into themes of destiny, fate, and the human condition, offering a poignant commentary on class struggle and the power of individual will.

  • Ironweed by William Kennedy

    Set during the Great Depression, the novel follows Francis Phelan, a former professional baseball player, who has become a drifter following a series of unfortunate events. Haunted by his past, including the accidental death of his infant son, Phelan returns to his hometown of Albany, New York, where he confronts his past and tries to make amends. The book explores themes of guilt, suffering, survival, and redemption.

  • Love Medicine by Louise Erdrich

    "Love Medicine" is a novel that explores the lives of several generations of a Native American family living on a reservation in North Dakota. The narrative is presented through a series of interconnected stories, each told from the perspective of different family members, and spans over 60 years, from 1934 to 1999. The book explores themes of love, family, identity, and the struggle between tradition and modernity. It provides a deep and poignant look into the complexities of Native American life and culture, and the challenges faced by the community.

  • The Accidental Tourist by Anne Tyler

    The novel follows the life of a travel writer, who, after the death of his son and subsequent separation from his wife, embarks on a journey of self-discovery. He meets an eccentric dog trainer who is the complete opposite of his introverted and orderly self. Through their relationship, he learns to embrace the unpredictability of life and move beyond his grief. The story is a poignant exploration of love, loss, and the unexpected turns life can take.

  • Kate Vaiden by Reynolds Price

    The novel centers around the life of a woman named Kate Vaiden, who at the age of 11, loses her parents in a murder-suicide. Kate is then raised by her aunt and uncle in North Carolina. At the age of 17, she becomes pregnant and, after giving birth, abandons her son, choosing to live a life of solitude. The story is told by Kate at the age of 57, as she reflects on her life and the decisions she's made, while also contemplating the possibility of reuniting with her abandoned son.

  • The Counterlife by Philip Roth

    This novel explores the idea of alternate realities through the story of two brothers, one a successful dentist and the other a famous writer. The narrative is divided into five parts, each presenting a different version of their lives. As the story progresses, the characters grapple with issues of identity, mortality, and the complex relationship between art and life. The novel is a profound examination of the choices we make and the different paths our lives could take as a result.

  • The Middleman and Other Stories by Bharati Mukherjee

    "The Middleman and Other Stories" is a collection of 11 short stories that explore the themes of cultural clashes, immigration, and the American Dream. The characters are immigrants from various parts of the world, including the Middle East, the Caribbean, and Asia, who are trying to navigate their new lives in America. The stories delve into the struggles, dreams, and realities of these immigrants, offering a unique perspective on multicultural America.

  • Billy Bathgate by E. L. Doctorow

    "Billy Bathgate" is a historical novel set in the 1930s that follows the life of a teenage boy from the Bronx who becomes involved with a notorious mobster and his gang. The protagonist, Billy, is taken under the wing of the gang leader, and the novel provides a detailed look into the world of organized crime during the Great Depression. The story is filled with violence, love, and the struggle for power, all seen through the eyes of a young boy trying to navigate his way through this dangerous world.

  • Rabbit at Rest by John Updike

    The novel is a final look into the life of Harry "Rabbit" Angstrom, a former high-school basketball star, now in his mid-fifties, overweight and grappling with several health issues. Despite his success in business, his personal life is in shambles, with his wife addicted to alcohol and his son to drugs. Harry, struggling with his mortality, is trying to understand his past and make sense of his future, while dealing with the changing American society and the consequences of his own choices.

  • A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley

    This novel is a modern retelling of Shakespeare's King Lear, set on a 1000-acre farm in Iowa. The story revolves around three daughters whose father decides to divide his land among them. The eldest two daughters are compliant with their father's decision, but the youngest daughter objects, leading to familial discord. The novel delves into themes of power, jealousy, and the dark secrets that can tear a family apart.

  • All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy

    This novel follows the journey of a young Texas cowboy who, after his grandfather's death, ventures into Mexico with his best friend in search of a life of freedom and adventure. Their journey becomes complicated when they are arrested and imprisoned, and the protagonist falls in love with the daughter of a wealthy ranch owner. The book explores themes of love, loss, friendship, and the harsh realities of life.

  • A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest J. Gaines

    Set in the pre-Civil Rights South, the novel explores the story of a young black man wrongfully accused and sentenced to death for a crime he didn't commit. A local schoolteacher, at the request of the man's godmother, attempts to help the condemned man gain a sense of dignity and self-worth in the final days of his life. The story grapples with issues of racial inequality, justice, humanity, and moral obligation.

  • The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields

    The novel follows the life of Daisy Goodwill Flett, a seemingly ordinary woman, from her birth in Canada in 1905 to her death. It explores her experiences as a mother, wife, and widow, as well as her work as a gardener and her later years as a columnist. The book is unique in that it is written in a variety of styles including letters, diary entries, and third-person narrative, and it explores themes of identity, love, and the often overlooked lives of women.

  • The Known World by Edward P. Jones

    "The Known World" is a historical novel set in antebellum Virginia, exploring the complex relationships between slaves, free blacks, and whites. The story revolves around a black man who becomes a slave owner, his wife, and their slaves. It provides a unique perspective on the moral complexities and personal consequences of slavery, while also examining the intricate social hierarchy of the time. The narrative is filled with richly drawn characters, each with their own stories and struggles, offering a vivid portrayal of a little-known aspect of American history.

  • Gilead by Marilynne Robinson

    The novel is a series of reflections written by an elderly dying pastor in 1956 in Gilead, Iowa, as a letter to his young son. The protagonist, John Ames, shares his family history, personal thoughts, and the struggles of his life, including the tension with his namesake and godson who returns to their small town. The book explores themes of faith, regret, and the beauty of existence, providing a profound meditation on life and death.

  • The March by E. L. Doctorow

    "The March" is a historical fiction novel that follows the destructive journey of General William Tecumseh Sherman's Union army through Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina during the American Civil War. The narrative is told from multiple perspectives, including those of slaves, soldiers, civilians, and Sherman himself. The book explores the chaos, violence, and often arbitrary nature of war, as well as its profound effects on individuals and societies. It also delves into the complexities of the human condition and the struggle for survival amidst chaos.

  • Mrs. Ted Bliss by Stanley Elkin

    Mrs. Ted Bliss is a novel about an elderly widow living in a Miami high-rise. She becomes involved in a world of crime and intrigue when she befriends a drug dealer. Throughout the story, she navigates her way through life's complexities, dealing with her own mortality, the changing world around her, and the realities of aging. The book is a mixture of humor and pathos, offering a unique perspective on the human condition.

  • Women in Their Beds by Gina Berriault

    "Women in Their Beds" is a collection of 35 short stories that offer profound, often heartbreaking glimpses into the lives of a variety of characters. Each story explores themes of love, loss, and the human condition, with a particular focus on the experiences of women. The book is known for its richly detailed prose and deeply empathetic portrayal of its characters.

  • The Blue Flower by Penelope Fitzgerald

    "The Blue Flower" is a historical novel centered around the life of Friedrich von Hardenberg, an 18th-century German poet and philosopher, known as Novalis. The story focuses on his philosophical development and his romantic relationship with a 12-year-old girl, Sophie von Kühn. It explores themes of love, philosophy, and the pursuit of knowledge, all set against the backdrop of the late Enlightenment period in Germany.

  • The Love of a Good Woman by Alice Munro

    "The Love of a Good Woman" is a collection of eight short stories, each delving into the complex nature of relationships, particularly focusing on women. The narratives explore various themes such as love, betrayal, death, and the often overlooked intricacies of everyday life. Set in small-town Canada, the stories are filled with characters grappling with their desires, secrets, and the unexpected turns of life, offering a profound and nuanced exploration of human behavior and emotions.

  • Motherless Brooklyn by Jonathan Lethem

    The novel follows Lionel Essrog, a detective with Tourette's Syndrome, as he navigates the rough streets of Brooklyn to solve the murder of his mentor and only friend, Frank Minna. Despite his condition, Lionel's obsessive mind proves to be a valuable asset in uncovering the truth about Frank's death, leading him through a maze of secrets, corruption, and betrayal within the Brooklyn underworld. The book is a compelling blend of mystery, humor, and an exploration of the human condition through the eyes of a uniquely gifted protagonist.

  • Being Dead by Jim Crace

    "Being Dead" is a novel that explores the themes of life, death, and love through the story of a married couple, both zoologists, who are brutally murdered on a beach. The narrative alternates between the present, where their bodies lie undiscovered, and the past, revealing the couple's history and the events leading up to their death. The book delves into the natural process of decomposition and the indifference of nature to human life and death, challenging the reader's perspective on mortality.

  • Austerlitz by W. G. Sebald

    The novel follows the story of Jacques Austerlitz, an architectural historian who was brought to England on a Kindertransport from Czechoslovakia during World War II. As an adult, Jacques embarks on a journey to uncover his past, including his original identity, his parent's fate, and his own lost history. The narrative is a haunting exploration of memory, identity, and the lasting impact of the Holocaust.

  • Atonement by Ian McEwan

    Atonement is a powerful novel that explores the consequences of a young girl's false accusation. The narrative follows the lives of three characters, the accuser, her older sister, and the sister's lover, who is wrongly accused. This false accusation irrevocably alters their lives, leading to the accused's imprisonment and eventual enlistment in World War II, while the sisters grapple with guilt, estrangement, and their own personal growth. The novel is a profound exploration of guilt, forgiveness, and the destructive power of misinterpretation.

  • The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai

    This novel explores themes of love, loss, and the human struggle for identity amidst political unrest. Set in India during the Nepalese movement for an independent state, the narrative follows the lives of a retired judge living in the Himalayas, his granddaughter, and his cook. As the political situation worsens, each character must grapple with their own personal issues, including the judge's regret over his failed marriage and his granddaughter's struggle to find her place in the world. The cook, meanwhile, dreams of a better life for his son in the United States. The narrative weaves together these individual stories to create a poignant tapestry of human resilience in the face of adversity.

  • The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz

    This novel tells the story of Oscar de Leon, an overweight Dominican boy growing up in New Jersey who is obsessed with science fiction, fantasy novels, and falling in love, but is perpetually unlucky in his romantic endeavors. The narrative not only explores Oscar's life but also delves into the lives of his family members, each affected by the curse that has plagued their family for generations. The book is a blend of magical realism and historical fiction, providing a detailed account of the brutal Trujillo regime in the Dominican Republic and its impact on the country's people and diaspora.

  • 2666 by Roberto Bolaño

    The novel is a sprawling, ambitious work that spans continents and time periods, centering around an elusive, reclusive German author. It intertwines five different narratives: a group of European academics searching for the author, a professor in Mexico dealing with his own personal crises, a New York reporter sent to cover a boxing match in Mexico, an African-American journalist in Detroit, and the horrifying and unsolved murders of hundreds of women in a Mexican border town. The narratives are linked by themes of violence, mystery, and the search for meaning in a chaotic world.

  • Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

    The novel is a historical fiction set in the 1500s, during the reign of King Henry VIII. The story is told from the perspective of Thomas Cromwell, a man of humble beginnings who rises to become the King's chief minister. The narrative explores the political and religious upheavals of the time, including King Henry's break with the Catholic Church and his controversial marriage to Anne Boleyn. The protagonist's cunning, ambition, and survival instincts are central to the plot as he navigates the treacherous waters of the Tudor court.

  • A Visit From The Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan

    "A Visit from the Goon Squad" is an interconnected collection of stories about a group of characters whose lives intersect in the music industry. The narrative spans several decades, tracing the characters' journey from their youth to middle age. It explores themes of time, change, and the impact of technology on human relationships and the music industry. The novel is known for its experimental structure, including a chapter written as a PowerPoint presentation.

  • Binocular Vision by Edith Pearlman

    "Binocular Vision" is a collection of short stories that provides a glimpse into the lives of various characters, each with their own unique circumstances. The stories are set in diverse locations, from suburban America to Central America, and Europe. The book explores themes of love, loss, and the complexities of human relationships. With a keen eye for detail, the author presents a rich tapestry of human experiences, highlighting the ordinary and extraordinary moments that define us.

  • Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk: A Novel by Ben Fountain

    The novel follows Billy Lynn, a 19-year-old soldier, who, along with his fellow soldiers in Bravo Squad, becomes a hero after a harrowing Iraq battle and is brought home temporarily for a victory tour. During the tour, they're honored at a Dallas Cowboys game, which exposes the commercialization and shallow appreciation of their sacrifices. Amidst the celebration, Billy grapples with his understanding of heroism, patriotism, family, and the stark contrast between the realities of war and America's perceptions.

  • Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

    The novel follows a young Nigerian woman who emigrates to the United States for a university education. While there, she experiences racism and begins blogging about her experiences as an African woman in America. Meanwhile, her high school sweetheart faces his own struggles in England and Nigeria. The story is a powerful exploration of race, immigration, and the complex nature of identity, love, and belonging.

  • Lila by Marilynne Robinson

    "Lila" is a novel that explores the life of a homeless child during the Great Depression who eventually becomes the wife of an elderly minister. The narrative follows her journey from a life of hardship and neglect to one of stability and love, weaving in themes of grace, redemption, and the transformative power of faith. Through the protagonist's eyes, the reader is invited to grapple with complex questions about existence, suffering, and the nature of God.

  • The Sellout by Paul Beatty

    This satirical novel follows the story of an African-American man living in a small, agrarian town on the outskirts of Los Angeles. After his father's death, he attempts to reinstate slavery and segregation in his town as a means of creating a sense of identity for himself and his community. The novel explores themes of racial identity and equality in America, challenging societal norms and expectations through its provocative narrative.

  • LaRose by Louise Erdrich

    In this emotionally charged novel, a man accidentally kills his neighbor's son while hunting and, in an act of ancient tribal tradition, offers his own son, LaRose, as compensation. The narrative explores the complexities of grief, justice, and cultural identity, as both families grapple with the loss of their sons and the impact of this decision. The story is set against the backdrop of the Ojibwe reservation in North Dakota, and the intertwining of the two families leads to unexpected relationships and the healing power of shared sorrow.

  • Improvement by Joan Silber

    "Improvement" is a novel that explores the interconnectedness of human lives across time and space. It tells the story of a single mother in New York who is drawn into a smuggling scheme with her Turkish boyfriend, which has far-reaching consequences. The narrative then branches out to tell the stories of the people indirectly affected by her actions, including her aunt, a truck driver, and a couple in Germany. The novel is a meditation on the ways in which our actions, both big and small, can have a ripple effect on the lives of others.

  • Milkman by Anna Burns

    Set during The Troubles in Northern Ireland, this novel follows an unnamed 18-year-old protagonist who is pursued by a powerful, older man known only as the Milkman. Despite her attempts to avoid him and maintain a low profile in her community, rumors spread about their supposed affair, leading to increased scrutiny and isolation. The book explores the protagonist's struggle to maintain her individuality amidst political and social turmoil, while also dealing with the pervasive threat of violence and the power of gossip in a close-knit community.

  • Everything Inside: Stories by Edwidge Danticat

    "Everything Inside: Stories" is a collection of eight short stories, each exploring the lives of various characters from the Haitian diaspora. The narratives delve into themes of love, loss, family, and community, often set against the backdrop of political unrest or natural disasters. The stories illuminate the complexities of human relationships, the struggle of immigrants, and the enduring spirit of the Haitian people.

  • Hamnet by Maggie O'Farrell

    "Hamnet" is a deeply moving and beautifully written historical novel that reimagines the life of a young boy, Hamnet, who is the son of a glovemaker in Stratford-upon-Avon. The boy tragically dies at the age of 11, which leaves a profound impact on his family, particularly his father, who is inspired to write one of the world's most famous plays. The narrative alternates between the time leading up to Hamnet's death and the aftermath, providing an intimate portrait of grief, love, and the power of art.

About this list

National Book Critics Circle, 46 Books

The National Book Critics Circle Award is an annual award given by the National Book Critics Circle (NBCC) to promote the finest books and reviews published in English.

Added about 10 years ago.

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