Posted January 26, 2015 by in Literary Prizes

National Book Critics Circle: The Finalists

Last week, the National Book Critics Circle (NBCC) announced its finalists in six categories. The choices, especially in the fiction category, are especially interesting (and worthy) titles. The selected novels aren’t just the big, buzz books of the year; instead, they are books that are emotional and complex works of art. These are titles that mean something—books that people can hold in their hearts and refuse to let go.

We decided that taking a closer look at this year’s finalists might be helpful for some readers who are considering picking up a couple of the novels.

First, though, if you missed the announcement, here is a reminder of the NBCC finalists in the fiction category:

Rabih Alameddine, An Unnecessary Woman (Grove Press)

Marlon James, A Brief History of Seven Killings (Riverhead Books)

Lily King, Euphoria (Atlantic Monthly Press)

Chang-rae Lee, On Such a Full Sea (Riverhead Books)

Marilynne Robinson, Lila (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

As you can see, the list is diverse in almost all ways. We have women and men. We have different races. We have big names and (maybe) some unknowns. It’s just a good list.

Now it’s time to get into our 5 choices.

An Unnecessary Woman


If you are a reader who loves literature—and I mean loves literature, all of it—then you must read Rabih Alameddine’s latest novel. An Unncessary Woman is about a seventy-two-year-old woman named Aaliya Saleh. Aaliya lives alone in her Beirut apartment; in fact, the only thing that really surrounds Aaliya is her literature. She translates a book into Arabic each year. The books she explores captivate her life, and they cause her to think about what she was, what she’s become, and what might be left.





A Brief History of Seven Killings

20893314Marlon James’ latest offering is gigantic. Seriously, it’s big: 700+ pages. The size isn’t the only thing that’s impressive about A Brief History of Seven Killings. This is a title that’s been on just about every “best of” list from 2014, appearing on lists from The New York Times, The Washington Post, Time, Publishers Weekly, and Library Journal. James’ novel is set in Jamaica and is incredibly ambitious. The plot involves Bob Marley, political unrest, CIA agents, ghosts, and drugs. It unfolds in grand style and comes together to form a stunning piece of fiction.







18467802Lily King has been around for a while, but this is the first time I’ve read her work. And Euphoria proved to be quite the introduction. Euphoria is sort of based on the life of anthropologist Margaret Mead. The Mead-like character, Nell Stone, is an impressive woman. Her research about a tribe in New Guinea is important, and people respect her. She has a problem with her jealous husband, though. Other people come into the picture and things get really complicated. King’s novel explores the rise and fall of relationships, romance, and exploration. It’s a short read, but it’ll take time. This is a smart, layered narrative.





On Such a Full Sea

17707526Chang-rae Lee’s novel came out during the first week of 2014, so it’s especially great that it’s still being talked about. On Such a Full Sea is a dystopian novel, written with so much style and sophistication. I don’t think of dystopian stories as having much quietness about them, but Lee’s novel is a surprisingly meditative novel. On Such a Full Sea is primarily about a woman named Fan who is searching for her missing boyfriend. To find him, she must exit the relative safeness of her community and venture into the dangerous, unknown parts of the world. Weird, engaging, and totally engulfing, Lee’s novel is a book that is unlike anything else you’ve read.  Ever.





20575411I love Marilynne Robinson’s writing. Gilead is one of my favorite novels, and Lila is a stunner, too. If you are familiar with Robinson’s work, you know what to expect. We have religion, love, family, and internal struggle on full display. Lila is homeless when she steps inside a church. From there, she meets (and eventually marries) John Ames. Her life starts anew, but she can’t completely break free from her past. Lila is an emotionally powerful and exquisitely beautiful. I hope it wins.

The award will be given on March 12, 2015. That leaves you plenty of time to get caught up on this year’s finalists.

Which title are you hoping to pick up? Which NBCC nominee have you already read? Was there a more deserving title? Sound off in the comments below.

Bradley Sides

Bradley Sides holds an M.A. in English. His fiction appears in numerous print and online journals. He is a staff writer for Bookkaholic and a frequent contributor to Drunk Monkeys. He resides in Florence, Alabama, with his wife, and he is working on securing a release date for his debut novel, Leaving Today.