Today the inaugural Folio Prize shortlist was announced, and it’s filled with some interesting stuff:

  • Red Doc>, by Anne Carson
  • Schroder, by Amity Gaige
  • Last Friends, by Jane Gardam
  • Benediction, by Kent Haruf
  • The Flame Throwers, by Rachel Kushner
  • A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing, by Eimer McBride
  • A Naked Singularity, by Sergio De La Pava
  • Tenth of December, by George Saunders

I think this is a compelling shortlist. I’ve read none of the books on the list (other than most of Tenth of December, which I did not like but, hey, it is unique and shows the award might take the short story seriously), but many of them are books I’m interested in. I think Anne Carson, Jane Gardam, and Kent Haruf are underappreciated masters, and it’s nice to see them on this list.

Anne Carson’s Red Doc> is a fragmented, long poem in which Carson returns to the character she first explored in Autobiography of Red. Here are a few lines from the beginning:

GOODLOOKING BOY wasn’t he / yes / blond /
                                                      yes / I do vaguely
                                                      / you never liked
                                                      him / bit of a
                                                      rebel / so you
                                                      said/ he’s the
                                                      one wore lizard
                                                      pants and

pearls to graduation / which at the time you admired /
                                           they were good pearls/
                                           you said he reminded you

your friend Mildred / Mildred taught me everything I
                                          know she taught me how
                                          to entertain / you must

And so on. A book like this, though critically lauded, is rarely seen on any prize lists.

From what I’ve read, A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing bends form even more dramatically. Here are its opening lines:

For you. You’ll soon. You’ll give her name. In the stitches of her skin she’ll wear your say. Mammy me? Yes you. Bounce the bed, I’d say. I’d say that’s what you did. Then lay you down. They cut you round. Wait and hour and day.

Walking up corridors up the stairs. Are you alright? Will you sit, he says. No. I want she says. I want to see my son. Smell from Dettol through her skin. Mops diamond floor tiles all as strong. All the burn your eyes out if you had some. Her heart going pat. Going dum dum dum. Don’t mind me she’s going to your room. See the. Jesus. What have they done? Jesus. Bile for. Tidals burn. Ssssh. All over. Mother. She cries. Oh no. Oh no no no.

I’ve heard great things about this book.

Sergio De La Pava’s A Naked Singularity was originally self-published — and is around 800 pages long. Jane Gardam’s Last Friends finishes off her trilogy of the old that began with Old Filth. Yes, these books are interesting and deserve attention. Surely not to everyone’s tastes, it’s nice to see.

Strangely, most reports I’ve read say kudos for the surprises but why the focus on American books. Five of the books are by American authors. Now, I think geographical diversity is great, but looking at the books — five of which are by women — and I say good job.

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