Because we were unable to give awards in 2011 and 2012, due to lack of qualifying entries, we decided to give two awards in 2013. The first award goes to The Double Life of Alfred Buber by David Schmahmann, which was reviewed by top DR reviewer Charles Holdefer. The second award goes to Cocoa Almond Darling by Jeffra Hays, which was reviewed by Peter Bollington, also a top DR reviewer, and VN Alexander, DR editor. Both authors receive a $1000 prize. Congratulations to David and Jeffra for their fine work.
Cocoa Almond Darling (Kindle, 126 pages), by Jeffra Hays, is a rather intense, deliberately-paced story about a tailor Mr. Benton, his assistant Milly, and their daughter Nicky. The main action seems to be set in the 1960s, give or take a decade, and the story is told entirely from Milly’s perspective. The novel’s limited first-person narration is masterfully rendered by Hays, who allows the reader to experience a degree of empathy not possible except through the lens of skillful realist fiction. The language of the novel is plain. The narrator is not a gifted poet, nor especially clever or funny. She is not given to much analysis, but she does pay attention to detail, and she is sometimes capable of rather admirable self-awareness and honesty. Continue reading
When Banville is writing at his best, he tends to reminisce about people and places rather than tell a story. In The Untouchable (Knopf, 668 pages), Victor Maskell, an Irishman living in England, becomes a spy for the Soviets during World War II. The book begins when the elderly Sir Maskell’s secret past has been revealed in the press. A young biographer, Serena Vandeleur, comes to interview him, and he takes the opportunity to look back over his life. Banville’s most artful writing is to be found in the plotless parts of the narrative, where he is working on characterization by relating memories of his childhood and young adulthood. Continue reading
Jeffra Hays’ Cocoa Almond Darling (Smashwords 2011, 126 pages) is the story of Millicent Randolph, survivor of a bad marriage and starting over in tough circumstances. These include finding a place to live and a job. She finds work in a sewing shop and enjoys a brief, happy relationship with her employer, in which she becomes pregnant although he is married. Her difficulties are then resumed through a long, turbulent aftermath to this affair. The turmoil continues following the birth of her child and on up to this daughter’s marriage and birth of her own daughters, when Milly becomes a grandmother. Continue reading
There will, unfortunately, always be a need for books about war, and this need takes many forms. In The Sojourn (Bellevue Literary Press, 191 pages), Andrew Krivak successfully defends the parish of the novel. Although the harsh imperatives of history require much sifting of facts, places and victims—synthesis and hindsight are essential, as part of our troubled species’ perverse CV—the novel, with its relentless subjectivity and its bloody-minded insistence on the plight of individuals, brings its own kind of necessary testimony. Continue reading
At the onset, our protagonist in Editorial (CreateSpace, 140 pages) is sent to live with an aunt/uncle after the untimely death of his parents, and he finds the routine and familiarity therapeutic in a sado-masochistic sort of way, until the day comes when his aunt and uncle basically throw him out on his own with nothing possession-wise to speak of other than his porn mag collection. Well, at least our narrator handles it well: with wit, sarcasm, and what was probably a heat stroke induced delusion.
The Death of Patsy McCoy (Inflatable Rider Press, 147 KB) is a story about a murder, but long before that, it was a story about suicide. The suicide of a small town, the suicide of a new kid seeking acceptance, and the suicide of five young men who would never be able to push aside memories left behind in their childhood, memories that are nothing more than the strewn wreckage of innocence gone lost. Continue reading