Editors’ Shortlist

The winner will be announced in the next issue.

Each year, the editors of the Believer generate a short list of the novels and story collections they thought were the strongest and most underappreciated of the year. The 2009 list appears below. In the January issue, we asked our readers to send in their nominations for the best work of fiction from 2009; their answers, along with the winner from the following shortlist, will appear in the May 2010 issue.

Christopher Miller, “The Cardboard Universe: A Guide to the World of Phoebus K. Dank” (Harper Perennial)
Miller’s second novel is a delight: an antic encyclopedia, a remarkably sustained (five-hundred-plus-page) riff on the life and work of Philip K. Dick, a Day-Glo Pale Fire, and maybe the best pure comic novel of the year. Dueling annotators pick over the writings of the late Phoebus K. Dank, endlessly drawing and erasing the line between genius and hack.

Percival Everett, “I Am Not Sidney Poitier” (Graywolf)
With more than twenty books to his name, Percival Everett is not only one of the most prolific modern American writers, but one of the most diverse, tackling just about every genre there is, and freely mixing them. He is also one of our best: I Am Not Sidney Poitier is further proof of that. Not Sidney is the name of the modest, unflappable protagonist, who happens to inherit wealth at an early age and winds up spending a lot of time with Ted Turner. Race, class, TBS, the films of Sidney Poitier, and the value of a college education are but some of the themes. It’s also funny as hell.

Mary Robison, “One D.O.A., One on the Way” (Counterpoint)
Eve Broussard is a Hollywood location scout in her post-apocalyptic hometown of New Orleans. Her experience in this profession is matched only by her cynicism. Eve is married to Adam Broussard, who has inherited land and money, is chronically ill, and has an identical (and mostly interchangeable) twin brother, Saunders. With Eve as our guide, we ride shotgun through kudzu-laden landscapes, bourbon-drenched love affairs, and an education in Louisiana gun laws. Robison’s ultraterse “chapters” and deadpan dialogue create a visceral New Orleans, and the effect of a morning-after Southern gothic.

Blake Butler, “Scorch Atlas” (featherproof)
Like the best sur-reality, Butler’s alien world is made from the building blocks of everyday life—rooms filled with hair and “teeth that wouldn’t fit inside a car.” His novels and stories are linguistically twisted dispatches from a half-house, half-body in which the author himself seems to be imprisoned. While he struggles to escape into the outside world, he remains obsessed with what’s at the end of the next abysmal hallway.

Padgett Powell, “The Interrogative Mood” (Ecco)
Padgett Powell’s newest novel is unlike his past novels, and is unlike any novel—every sentence in this 164-page book is a question directed at “you.” Prying, intimate, damning, insulting, inane, and innocent are these inquisitions. What at first might strike as a literary gimmick, impossible to sustain, becomes (as “you” surrender to it) an act of intense private meditation, as well as a flagrantly solipsistic display of your most private self.

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