PEN/Faulkner is a nonprofit literary organization that promotes a lifelong love of reading and a connection to writing through public events, in-school education, and public promotion of exceptional literary achievement. The PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction, one of the highest honors available to American fiction writers.
The finalists for the 2021 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction are The Secret Lives of Church Ladies by Deesha Philyaw, Disappear Doppelgänger Disappear by Matthew Salesses, The Knockout Queen by Rufi Thorpe, Mother Daughter Widow Wife by Robin Wasserman, and Scattered Lights by Steve Wiegenstein.
The winning book will be announced on May 10th.
The Secret Lives of Church Ladies by Deesha Philyaw
The nine stories in this collection feature four generations of characters grappling with who they want to be in the world, caught as they are between the church’s double standards and their own needs and passions. There is fourteen-year-old Jael, who has a crush on the preacher’s wife. At forty-two, Lyra realizes that her discomfort with her own body stands between her and a new love. As Y2K looms, Caroletta’s “same time next year” arrangement with her childhood best friend is tenuous. A serial mistress lays down the ground rules for her married lovers. In the dark shadows of a hospice parking lot, grieving strangers find comfort in each other. With their secret longings, new love, and forbidden affairs, these church ladies are as seductive as they want to be, as vulnerable as they need to be, as unfaithful and unrepentant as they care to be, and as free as they deserve to be.
Book | Hoopla Audiobook
Disappear Doppelgänger Disappear by Matthew Salesses
Matt Kim is always tired. He keeps passing out. His cat is dead. His wife and daughter have left him. He’s estranged from his adoptive family. People bump into him on the street as if he isn’t there. He is pretty sure he’s disappearing. His girlfriend, Yumi, is less convinced. But then she runs into someone who looks exactly like her, and her doppelgänger turns out to have dated someone who looks exactly like Matt. Except the other Matt was superior in every way. He was clever, successful, generous, and beloved–until one day he suddenly and completely vanished without warning. How can Matt Kim protect his existence when a better version of him wasn’t able to? Or is his worse life a reason for his survival?
The Knockout Queen by Rufi Thorpe
Bunny Lampert is the princess of North Shore—beautiful, tall, blond, with a rich real-estate-developer father and a swimming pool in her backyard. Michael—with a ponytail down his back and a septum piercing—lives with his aunt in the cramped stucco cottage next door. When Bunny catches Michael smoking in her yard, he discovers that her life is not as perfect as it seems. At six foot three, Bunny towers over their classmates. Even as she dreams of standing out and competing in the Olympics, she is desperate to fit in, to seem normal, and to get a boyfriend, all while hiding her father’s escalating alcoholism. Michael has secrets of his own. At home and at school Michael pretends to be straight, but at night he tries to understand himself by meeting men online for anonymous encounters that both thrill and scare him. When Michael falls in love for the first time, a vicious strain of gossip circulates and a terrible, brutal act becomes the defining feature of both his and Bunny’s futures—and of their friendship.
Book | Overdrive Ebook
Mother Daughter Widow Wife by Robin Wasserman
Who is Wendy Doe? The woman, found on a Peter Pan Bus to Philadelphia, has no money, no ID, and no memory of who she is, where she was going, or what she might have done. She’s assigned a name and diagnosis by the state: Dissociative fugue, a temporary amnesia that could lift at any moment—or never at all. When Dr. Benjamin Strauss invites her to submit herself for experimental observation at his Meadowlark Institute for Memory Research, she feels like she has no other choice.
To Dr. Strauss, Wendy is a female body, subject to his investigation and control. To Strauss’s ambitious student, Lizzie Epstein, she’s an object of fascination, a mirror of Lizzie’s own desires, and an invitation to wonder: once a woman is untethered from all past and present obligations of womanhood, who is she allowed to become?
Scattered Lights by Steve Wiegenstein
This collection of stories brings together a wide cast of characters, all connected to the Ozarks – natives and transplants, young and old, wicked and innocent, troubled and happy, God-haunted and just plain haunted. These stories range over human experience from madness to reconciliation and everything in between, told in precise, poetic language that leaves a permanent impression.