The Believer Book Award

Editors’ Shortlist

Each year, the editors of the Believer generate a short list of the novels and story collections they thought were the strongest and most exciting. The 2014 list appears below, and the winner, as well as the results of our annual readers’ survey, will appear in the summer issue.

Man V. Nature
by Diane Cook (HarperCollins)
In her exuberantly dark first collection of stories, Diane Cook tackles the squishy minutiae of calamity. Three friends become hopelessly lost on a boating trip; we smell the compounded decay of their bodies and minds. A lonely woman’s life is made, then destroyed, during an affair with a local meteorologist. A dithering madman steals a community’s children. The dread of disaster looms large on every page, while Cook takes deft, hilarious jabs at what we all must do to keep going. It is a funny, scary, sensitive examination of the brittleness of human existence.

Faces in the Crowd
by Valeria Luiselli; translated by Christina MacSweeney (Coffee House Press)
Valeria Luiselli’s Möbius strip of a debut novel uses translation as its reigning metaphor for the slippages of life lived between cities, languages, books, and selves. Words and people alike commingle with false friends, imaginary equivalencies—freeing becomes freezing, a house becomes a hose, kittens become reincarnated major poets—and finally, like the narrative’s multiple threads, fade into one another. Like Luiselli’s equally peripatetic essay collection, Sidewalks, also published in English last year, Faces in the Crowd is keenly attuned to the phantoms that haunt our attempts to understand the words and the worlds surrounding us.

Thunderstruck and Other Stories
by Elizabeth McCracken (The Dial Press)
We are constantly rushed into getting over our grief, but how can we when, as Elizabeth McCracken deftly points out in her deeply affecting collection Thunderstruck and Other Stories, “whatever you have lost there are more of, just not yours.” From six-year-old girls and suddenly dead lovers to promising futures, we are surrounded by constant, painful reminders of our loss. Her characters are haunted by and sometimes even infected with grief, unable to shake it off but forced to keep on living nonetheless. With sharp, moving humor, McCracken highlights the folly of searching for a catharsis in the gloom in this beautifully wise collection.

by Ottessa Moshfegh (Fence Books)
Inside Moshfegh’s debut novel lives McGlue, not so much a sailor as a young man—to quote the book’s epigraph by Emerson—born with knives in his brain. Out of McGlue’s leaky head wound (a wound both literal and metaphorical) come the recollection and erasure of a life—the telling of his own destruction and that of those buried with him. Ottessa Moshfegh beautifully reconstructs McGlue’s journey across the sea and through mid-nineetenth-century New York and Salem, Massachusetts, but McGlue isn’t so much a historical novel as it is realia for the primal self, a reminder of the destructive powers of language.

by Antoine Volodine, translated by Katina Rogers (Dalkey Archive Press)
Antoine Volodine is the pseudonym of a French writer who uses a variety of pseudonyms to construct a vast network of Borgesian paratexts, all of which fall under the rubric of a genre he calls “post-exoticism.” Volodine’s writings depict static states, often metaphysical, liminal, and hallucinatory, where characters speak from a place between life and death, myth and dream. His prose conjures a thick, oppressive atmosphere that allows narrative to seep through only occasionally. His new collection brings together seven new post-exotic voices, each one an attempt to expose the unknowable force behind the act of writing.

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