Kirkus Reviews has announced the finalists for the 2023 Kirkus Prize in Fiction. The jurors for the fiction award are Rosa Hernandez, marketing manager and bookseller for Third Place Books in Lake Forest Park, Washington; Michael Schaub, book critic, NPR Books contributor, and Kirkus contributing writer; and Kirkus fiction editor Laurie Muchnick.
Witness: Stories by Jamel Brinkley
What does it mean to take action? To bear witness? What does it cost?
In these ten stories, each set in the changing landscapes of contemporary New York City, a range of characters–from children to grandmothers to ghosts–live through the responsibility of perceiving and the moral challenge of speaking up or taking action. Though they strive to connect, to remember, to stand up for, and to really see each other, they often fall short, and the structures they build around these ambitions and failures shape not only their own futures but the legacies and prospects of their families and their city.
Birnam Wood by Eleanor Catton
Five years ago, Mira Bunting founded a guerrilla gardening group: Birnam Wood. An undeclared, unregulated, sometimes-criminal, sometimes-philanthropic gathering of friends, this activist collective plants crops wherever no one will notice: on the sides of roads, in forgotten parks, and neglected backyards. For years, the group has struggled to break even. Then Mira stumbles on an answer, a way to finally set the group up for the long term: a landslide has closed the Korowai Pass, cutting off the town of Thorndike. Natural disaster has created an opportunity, a sizable farm seemingly abandoned.
But Mira is not the only one interested in Thorndike. Robert Lemoine, the enigmatic American billionaire, has snatched it up to build his end-times bunker–or so he tells Mira when he catches her on the property. Intrigued by Mira, Birnam Wood, and their entrepreneurial spirit, he suggests they work this land. But can they trust him? And, as their ideals and ideologies are tested, can they trust each other?
White Cat, Black Dog by Kelly Link
Finding seeds of inspiration in the Brothers Grimm, seventeenth-century French lore, and Scottish ballads, Kelly Link spins classic fairy tales into utterly original stories of seekers–characters on the hunt for love, connection, revenge, or their own sense of purpose.
In “The White Cat’s Divorce,” an aging billionaire sends his three sons on a series of absurd goose chases to decide which will become his heir. In “The Girl Who Did Not Know Fear,” a professor with a delicate health condition becomes stranded for days in an airport hotel after a conference, desperate to get home to her wife and young daughter, and in acute danger of being late for an appointment that cannot be missed. In “Skinder’s Veil,” a young man agrees to take over a remote house-sitting gig for a friend. But what should be a chance to focus on his long-avoided dissertation instead becomes a wildly unexpected journey, as the house seems to be a portal for otherworldly travelers–or perhaps a door into his own mysterious psyche.
The Heaven & Earth Grocery Store by James McBride
In 1972, when workers in Pottstown, Pennsylvania, were digging the foundations for a new development, the last thing they expected to find was a skeleton at the bottom of a well. Who the skeleton was and how it got there were two of the long-held secrets kept by the residents of Chicken Hill, the dilapidated neighbourhood where immigrant Jews and African Americans lived side by side and shared ambitions and sorrows.
As these characters’ stories overlap and deepen, it becom
The Bee Sting by Paul Murray
The Barnes family is in trouble. Dickie’s once-lucrative car business is going under―but rather than face the music, he’s spending his days in the woods, building an apocalypse-proof bunker with a renegade handyman. His wife Imelda is selling off her jewelry on eBay, while their teenage daughter Cass, formerly top of her class, seems determined to binge-drink her way through her final exams. And twelve-year-old PJ is putting the final touches to his grand plan to run away from home.
Where did it all go wrong? A patch of ice on the tarmac, a casual favor to a charming stranger, a bee caught beneath a bridal veil―can a single moment of bad luck change the direction of a life? And if the story has already been written―is there still time to find a happy ending?
Let Us Descend by Jesmyn Ward
Let Us Descend is a reimagining of American slavery, as beautifully rendered as it is heart-wrenching. Searching, harrowing, replete with transcendent love, the novel is a journey from the rice fields of the Carolinas to the slave markets of New Orleans and into the fearsome heart of a Louisiana sugar plantation.
Annis, sold south by the white enslaver who fathered her, is the reader’s guide through this hellscape. As she struggles through the miles-long march, Annis turns inward, seeking comfort from memories of her mother and stories of her African warrior grandmother. Throughout, she opens herself to a world beyond this world, one teeming with of earth and water, of myth and history; spirits who nurture and give, and those who manipulate and take. While Ward leads readers through the descent, this, her fourth novel, is ultimately a story of rebirth and reclamation.