Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Rich people's problems: Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney's The Nest

You can't walk into a Chapters or Indigo right now without seeing several different displays pushing the sale of Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney's debut novel The Nest. Not to mention that Book of the Month is featuring guest judge Ellie Kemper (of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt fame) lauding praise over what is certainly the current moment's 'it' novel.

So with the buzz deafening I picked up this book and's pretty fantastic. The Nest follows the story of the four Plum children, now well into adulthood and waiting for their youngest sibling, Melody, to turn forty so that they can access a $2 million trust ("The Nest") that their father had left behind. All four had made questionable financial decisions in anticipation of The Nest bailing them out from any bad debt they had incurred. But just a few months before The Nest is set to be distributed, the eldest son, Leo, has a horrible car accident while engaging in a sex act with a 19 year old waitress. Desperate to avoid media attention, the Plum's mother taps into The Nest to pay off the waitress and her family in exchange for silence, leaving Leo's three siblings in dire financial strait.

The novel takes us from there, as the three children try to coax Leo into paying The Nest back while Leo tries to re-enter an art world he had once excelled at but had abandoned. The other siblings also try to regain their footing, realizing that they had made a grave mistake in counting on The Nest but not knowing how right the ship.

Sweeney's prose is really smart and sly and sexy. She writes with fancy multisyllabic prose that conveys beauty and style and uses her masterful words to paint really engaging portraits of the four main protagonists and their supporting cast. She manages to take a story about a financial anxiety that most of us cannot relate to into a parable about rediscovery and turning misfortune to break from elements of our life that cause stress and pain.

In many ways, The Nest reminds me of the sharp and biting writing associated with Jonathan Franzen before he became such an asshole. Sweeney captures some of the vibe we got from The Corrections, although Sweeney (unlike Franzen) is not so quick to expose her characters as despicable humans we want to see crash and fail. That said, while Franzen is great at limiting the number of narrative voices, I did find that Sweeney cast her net too far at points, trying to include too many perspectives and story lines into the novel, some that felt unnecessary that did not add anything of value to the novel as a whole. Despite this, the novel works and would be a delightful summer read.

As an addendum, Sweeney was the guest on the Lit Up podcast a few weeks back and it is worth giving it a listen and hear how she took until her forty's to finally put the pen to paper and start writing her novel.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

The Pulitzer: Was I ever off!!

So yesterday the Pulitzer Prize for fiction was awarded to Viet Thanh Nguyen's debut novel The Sympathizer. Admittedly, this is a book I haven't read yet, although it has been near the top of my To Be Read pile for several months now.

Nguyen's political thriller is about a Vietnamese spy living in Los Angeles in the years following the end of the American War in South East Asia. It has gotten a significant amount of attention, making the New York Times 100 Notable Books of 2015, being short-listed for the Pen/Faulkner Award in Fiction, and winning the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction and the Center For Fiction's First Novel Prize. It was also #9 on the prediction list put together by the Pulitzer Prize First Edition Guide, once again showing that the statistical model used is pretty effective.

All that said, this was a surprise. In a year dominated by debates about A Little Life and accolades for The Sellout, Nguyen's book quietly went about its business and sneaked in to take the big prize.

Despite being a bit sad that A Little Life did not win I am relatively pleased with this year's award. The last two winners The Goldfinch and All The Light We Cannot See were huge commercial hits and did not really need this award. In contrast, Nguyen is a little known author and academic, whose writing will now receive significant attention. Nguyen left a little note on his website that I found touching and made me even more eager to pick the novel up:

I got the news at around 3:15 thanks to my Twitter and Facebook feed. I sat around shocked, stunned, fielding phone calls from my publicist and doing news interviews and trying to reply to as many emails, tweets, and Facebook comments and messages as I could. I called my wonderful partner, Lan Duong. I felt queasy and struck by literary lightning. I went to do a book talk at Harvard Bookstore and was so pleased to have a conversation with so many people. I just want to say to all of you who are reading this what I’ve tried to say to the press. Of course it’s wonderful for me to get this prize. But within minutes of getting it, I knew that I owed tremendous thanks to everyone who has gone before me in the great, ongoing struggle for social justice, for peace, for genuine equality, for representation for all at every level of every society. I think of the enormous debts I owe to everyone who fought for civil rights, for radical power, for economic equity, and how all these issues are inseparable from justice in the literary world. No minority writer, no writer of color, can claim that he or she accomplished anything purely on their own merit. We all owe so much to the collective struggles and activists that preceded us, that laid the foundations for our individual achievement, to everyone lucky enough to be remembered and so many who have been forgotten. Great love to Asian American Studies, to Ethnic Studies, to UC Berkeley, my alma mater that made me into the person that I am, to all who fight the good fight and who will never, ever believe that they are only individuals. All your messages to me registering the pride you feel in my accomplishment as a friend, as a fellow scholar or writer, as an Asian American/ist, as a Vietnamese or Vietnamese American–all of this affirms to me that we who wish to be are part of a movement, of movements, for love, peace, justice, and not least of all great literature. I will respond to all of you over the next few days, but for now, thanks so much for your kind words.

On another very interesting note, Nguyen has just released a non-fiction companion book to The Sympathizer entitled Nothing Ever Dies: Vietnam and the Memory of War.

Fantastic year in fiction ending with a shocker. The 2016 literary awards will begin soon in earnest, with the Booker long list coming out in July. I will try to keep up with my regular reviews. 

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Pulitzer Prize Time! My prediction

Has been a while since I took time to write a blog so I have added several of my Goodreads reviews from the last several months of reading that you are encouraged to take a look through.

However, today's principle post is about the Pulitzer Prize, the annual award of letters given out by Columbia University that will announce its winners and finalists on Monday. Alongside the Man Booker, the Pulitzer is one of the most coveted awards in the English language and the winner in the fiction prize is sure to garner a massive spike in sales as thousands of readers go out to buy the winning book.

So important is the award to the publishing industry that the failure to award a winner a few years back had a significant negative financial impact and created a bit of an uproar in publishing that such a decision is unlikely to happen again any time soon.

Like most literary awards, predicting finalists and winners is difficult because you are dealing with the idiosyncratic tastes of a small jury. The Pulitzer is especially tough to predict because a short list is not announced beforehand and finalists are revealed at the same time as the winner. So the notorious betting associated with the Man Booker is something The Pulitzer is free from. Further obfuscating the process is that the jury (usually three people from the literary world) only offer up the three finalists and a larger board decides which of the three deserves the award. Funnily enough, last year the jury offered three books that the Pulitzer Board did not like and instead of repeating the mistake of 2012 of not giving a prize in the field of fiction the board asked the jury to come back with another pick, that turned out to be All The Light We Cannot See, which was the relatively inoffensive and likeable winner,

Thankfully the folks at the Pulitzer Prize First Edition Collecting Guide have created a list based on statistical modelling, using historically predictive indicators (such as being short listed for the National Book Award or National Book Critics Circle Award or making the NY Times Notable 100 or Top 10 list) to rank the books most likely to win. Of the 15 books that make the list, usually among them is the winner.

OK so my thoughts about potential winners.

First things first, the award is only open to American authors, so no international books.

Secondly, the prize criteria says that the book should explore themes about American life. In recent years the Pulitzer has seemed to move away from this. The Orphan Master's Son took place almost exclusively in North Korea and All The Light We Cannot See took place in France and Germany, so it appears that the book being thematically limited to the United States isn't really essential.

Lastly, the winners tend to be more popular than other awards. While other awards, like the National Book Award, seems more willing to choose more difficult works or short story collections, the Pulitzer seems as eager to honour books that have been the talked about books of the year (at least among the more serious reader). The last two winners, The Goldfinch and All The Light You Cannot See were best sellers and probably did not need the award to draw attention to the authors. This isn't to say that the award will go to genre fiction titles (James Patterson and David Baldacci ain't gonna win it) but if you peruse the list of former winners you see titles like The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, Middlesex, and The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao that are significant literary books that were also popular and widely consumed.

OK OK I've bored you with enough lets talk books. 

The obvious pick at this point would be Paul Beatty's The Sellout. Beatty has already won the National Book Critics Circle Award and The Tournament of Books, so he has strong momentum behind him. This cutting satire digs deep into the self-congratulatory claims of post-racial society in the United States and offers a non-stop barrage of hilarious prose. Beatty gives a unique glimpse into the absurdity of a world where the confident pronouncements that racism is a thing of the past are just part of an elaborate practical joke being played on blacks. The Sellout is a capital "I" important book and will be one of those novels we look back on with admiration for years to come, will tell friends to read, and then share laughs about how funny and amazing Beatty's story is. It would be a worthy choice.

Another strong contender is Anthony Mara's The Tsar of Love and Techno, a series of interconnected short stories that stretch in time and place from the old Soviet Union to the post-Soviet republics and the Chechnya war. This was definitely one of my favourite books when I read it last year, with some of the stories leaving me breathless in admiration. Mara has been pegged as one of the great upcoming writers, with his first novel The Constellation of Vital Phenomena receiving critical praise, and Tsar has also garnered a fair share of passionate admirers (as witnessed by the commentary in this year's Tournament of Books). That said, I don't believe it will win. Partly because it's a short story collection and not all the short stories are of equal quality, but also because while I loved it when I read it, it hasn't stuck with me really (except for one haunting story) and it isn't a book I have rushed to recommend or praise as an "it" book. Mara will certainly win the Pulitzer one day, but I don't think this is the one that gets him the prize.

Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff got enormous attention when it came out and was picked early on as a Pulitzer contender. The book was short listed for the National Book Awards and the National Book Critics Award and Barack Obama picked it as his favourite novel of 2015, so it definitely has buzz. It was also a very ambitious novel, presenting the tale of marriage from two very unique perspectives, forcing the reader to think about how marriages and relationships work, how accurate each party's image of the relationship is, and what self-diluding lies we tell ourselves to make the relationship work .  It's heady stuff and Groff is an excellent writer, but it is also written in almost too clinical prose, to the point where I found the style cold and off putting. During the discussion of this book during the Tournament of Books a few commentators noted the similarities between Fates and Furies and Gone Girl and more than one voice concluded that the latter pulled off the dual perspective narrative structure better and I would tend to agree. Saying that, I just don't feel the Pulitzer is going to give its award to a book that will be looked at in a few years with a sense of "that was a good book" rather than "wow what a great novel"...especially in what has been a pretty strong year in fiction.

James Hannahan's Delicious Food is another book that got lots of buzz when it was released in early 2015 but then kind of disappeared from the radar. It wasn't shortlisted for any of the major awards and appeared to not be in consideration. Then it made the NY Times 100 Notable books and was shortlist for the Pen/Faulkner Award and seems to have peaked interest again. Delicious Food is a dark take into the world of addiction, following the story of a widowed mother's dependency on crack cocaine that takes her to a world of indentured servitude deep in heart of Texas. Hannahan brilliantly uses the voice of personified crack cocaine for several chapters and his writing is powerful. I think this was one of the big books of the year, but I also found it a bit of a slog to get through. It could very well win the Pulitzer and that would go a long way to give Hannahan some deserved exposure but I am not convinced it will be the winner.

Another book that I did not believe would be in the hunt when I read it but that has captured significant attention is Angela Flournoy's first novel The Turner House. It was a surprisingly shortlisted for the National Book Award and then powered through the Tournament of Books to the final before succumbing to The Sellout in a relatively competitive final. To be honest I wasn't blown away when I listened to the audiobook. Flournoy tells an interesting story of the Turner family as it tries to decide what to do with the family house in the heart of contemporary Detroit, intertwining African American mythology into a compelling and modern narrative of African American life. However, I did not find anything special about the story telling. Although well written, it felt conventional and derivative and I do not believe it will be a book that will hold up with time.

But my pick to win is...

A Little Life by Hana Yanagihara

A Little Life  follows the story of four college friends fresh out of college and traces their interactions over several decades. Quickly the story shifts focus to one of the men, Jude, who is the most treasured and loved of the friends but also the one harbouring a really dark past he cannot tell the others about. This is a book that needs a trigger warning sticker on the front as it delves into issues of sexual violence and abuse that are not easy to ingest. Yanagihara tests our patience, exposing Jude to such brutal treatment that we think neither he nor us can take any more but then she gives us more. A Little Life is a dark and brutal fairy tale about the limits of friendship and how those friendships respond to pain and suffering. In the end we have accompanied Jude on his journey, a journey filled with some really poignant joyous moments but also the deepest and darkest ones filled with despair and sadness. We aren't sure if we are happy to have been there for the trip but it leaves us with a visceral reaction that permanently etches in the our mind.

I want to say that this book was my favourite novel of 2015. It was a tour de force, an 800 page epic novel that I powered through and that left me emotionally wasted. I think back at moments in the novel, and still get the feels remembering. Yanagihara's novel isn't something to take lightly and I was initially cautious about recommending it to others. It is one of these books you finish, step back, take a deep breath, whimper and then wonder if you should tell others to read it too. I have since given a copy to my mother, who is in the midst of reading it and loving it, so maybe it is something to tell others about.

A Little Life definitely has many accolades. It was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, it was shortlisted for the National Book Award, and recently shortlisted for the Bailey's Women's Prize for Fiction. It won the Kirkus Prize for Fiction. It received effusive praise from highly regarded literary podcasters like Ann Kingman from Books on the Nightstand and Simon Savidge.   Garth Greenwell wrote a widely read review in The Atlantic calling the book The Great Gay Novel many had been waiting for. She even got some late night television coverage, guesting on Late Night with Seth Meyers.

Despite the praise and many devout followers, there have been polar opposite reactions from critics and readers alike who were turned off by the sexual violence, the brutality, the prose, or the lack of realism. The New York Times felt the need to write not one but two reviews panning it. The Millions also had quite a harsh take on Yanagihara's second novel.

I am not sure I have seen a book so divide the reading community as much as A Little Life (maybe the Goldfinch?), but in many ways I think that is the reason it should win. 2015 was a fantastic year in literature and many books would be worthy of the Pulitzer. But the year in fiction has in many ways been about what your opinions were about A Little Life. It was at the centre of some pretty intense debates, with very thoughtful arguments about the significance of Yanagihara's creation and whether or not she pulled it off. The discussions during the Tournament of Books were at their best with match ups involving A Little Life. That Yanagihara has managed to create a work of art that has provoked the deep emotional response it has with readers is something that stands out for me and I think will stand out for many years to come.

The awards are being live streamed on Monday on the Pulitzer website around 3pm. It is worth checking out. No matter who wins, I will say 2015 was a particularly good year in books and it was a joy to have read so many of them.

Discovery Zadie Smith: On Beauty

Zadie Smith is another author I have been wanting to read for many years and finally had a chance to pick up On Beauty, her Orange Prize winning, Booker Prize short listed novel. Smith did not disappoint.

The plot follows the travails of the Beasly family as it enters a period of flux and strain, with the three children entering adulthood and challenging the authority of their parents and the marriage facing peril as the husband, Howard, has strayed and had an affair with a long time friend.

Smith does so much here. Her writing is witty and engrossing, she switches narrative perspectives with ease and sometimes mid paragraph, but without being jarring. She also tackles so many thematics here, from the precarious identity of a mixed race family, to the difficult challenges of holding a family together as monumental transitional moments conspire to undermine even the strongest relationships.

I am eager to pick up White Teeth and other writings, but happy to have chosen this one as my first foray into the world of Zadie Smith.

Worth All The Buzz: Alexander Chee's The Queen of the Night

This book has received an enormous amount of buzz to start the year, as the highly anticipated second novel of Alexander Chee that took twelve years to come to fruition has received glowing reviews and strong recommendations from popular book websites like Book Riot and The Millions. In many ways it has become this year's A Little Life, and ironically Hana Yanagihara gives a glowing blurb for Queen on the back.

But while A Little Life was a raw and emotionally draining barrage of intensity (which I loved, but others didn't), Chee's novel is a much more polished and precise book. No word or sentence is wasted. Chee carries the reader carefully through the story of Liliet Berne, the most celebrated opera star in Third Republic France, whose secret past risks exposure unless she can discover who has revealed her origin story. 

The writing is beautiful and Chee is very subtle in how he reveals new information and manages to offer sharp turns in plot without any sense of overreaching or awkwardness. His writing is also meticulous, paying attention to the slightest personal detail that shapes our impression of each of the characters. And the amount of research he must of have done to construct Liliet's world is astounding. We are taken to the France of Napoleon III, the Europe of the Franco-Prussian War, the Paris of the Commune and we believe we are there. 

In the end Chee has provided us an astonishing story, that envelopes us in atmosphere but also gives us insight into the limits and barriers that even the most talented of women faced and the choices a woman like Liliet had to make to finally be free. 

Concluding an Epic Space Opera: Pierce Brown's Morning Star (Red Rising #3)

Finally done this really remarkable series that can only be described as a spectacular space opera. Brown has become a master of writing not only the most breathtakingly fast and brutally violent battle sequences with captivating twists that leave us hanging on for dear life and short of breathe, he also manages to take the reader from these adrenaline infused highs to the quietest come downs, where the various characters (who you truly become attached to) share their love with one another and try their best to communicate their adoration with one another as they share the journey to destroy the despotic rulers of the world Brown has created.

Just like the two first instalments of the series, Morning Star continues Darrow's journey as a working class miner turned gladiator golden warrior as he builds his forces to end the despotic and cruel rule of the solar system's sovereign. Surrounded by his love interest and genuinely brilliant warrior Mustang and his closest friend, crazed lunatic and leader of the guerilla forces of the uprising, Sevro, Morning Star keeps us guessing at how Darrow will be able to destroy the more than formidable forces of the ruler Golds. Brown again gives us battle scenes not for the feint at heart, filled with tactical brilliance but also with gory bloodshed, Brown never hesitating to give us all the detail of human destruction we didn't think we needed to hear but are still enthralled to receive when handed to us in Brown's amazing prose. He also gives us a fair share of tragedy, as we lose some of the most valiant of Darrow's warrior brothers and sisters and I must say there were moments where I just wanted to scream. As much as these books are action oriented, they are also about friendship and loyalty and Brown's exploration of these themes leave even the most cynical reader with a tear down their cheek.

I have recommended this series to quite a few people and all that I know have been captivated by Brown's story telling ability and on this front this book does not disappoint. This is a space opera where there is no shame cheering on as the solar systems oppressed colours take on the structures of oppression.

There were lingering issues though that I feel I must discuss and why I have only given it 4 stars rather than 5. 


This series is a political drama. You can't call your first book Red Rising and put a sickle on the cover of the concluding chapter without the reader drawing some conclusions. The heart of the story is about the oppressed labourers of the society throwing off their shackles. The slogan of their uprising is "break the chains." Yet despite this gutsy and radical politic, Brown decides to not take his story to a more satisfying conclusion. 

Firstly, there is a moment early in the novel where the solar systems richest man, Quicksilver, who turns out to be a Son of Ares, gives a long speech about him not being a communist or an anarchist, expressly rejects democracy and stating his aims to liberate the free market from the stifling caste system that has ruled the system for 700 years. This is rather conventional libertarianism that really seems out of place in this story and while there are indications that this political view isn't readily accepted by Darrow and other prominent figures of the rising I found it problematic that this is the only explicit political speech of its sort in the whole book. There is no challenge to it and it feels like Quicksilver's view are what Brown wants to suggest is truly wrong with society, as if the free market is a panacea that once unleashed will solve the inequitable distribution of wealth and power in the Society.

Even more problematic is the conclusion, where Mustang emerges as sovereign and Darrow concedes that a compromised victory is necessary to avoid a brutal chaos that the society cannot take any longer after a drawn out and brutal war. While Mustang does undo some of the most draconian elements of the old regime, I am disappointed that Brown doesn't offer up a much more radically democratic vision as a possible outcome. Breaking down the caste system is certainly progress, but the society would still be dependent on the hell divers who provide the energy for everyone else. Those who labour would still be subject to exploitation and class structures would certainly remain even with the most repugnant elements of the society gone. I kept wanting to scream, "a political revolution is not enough Darrow".

Darrow hints that not all in the rising would be satisfied with the compromise but determines that the compromise is necessary to let those who have ruled and those who have been ruled come to terms with each others existence. But why? Why should those whose position is still dependent on the labour of others be given license to continue living off the labour of others? Even if the Reds and other subservient colours pushed toward a more radical change and democratic order, why would it inevitably result in Gold extermination (which Darrow seems to fear)? Revolutions obviously involve bloodshed as those with power resist having that power taken away, but for the amount of blood Darrow spilt in these three books, he gets squeamish rather quickly when a little more blood may be needed to bring true just outcomes for the solar systems most oppressed.

I feel that Brown's own political limitations come through here. We get to see the shallow horizon of what he believes is possible, the limits his imagination has about what kind of order could or should be built out of the defeat of the sovereign. Brown promises to continue the story of the aftermath and explore what world the remaining populations try to build. I hope he uses his future books (which I am totally going to read) to explore a more radically democratic alternative to the class society Darrow seems to accept as the best outcome at this particular junction. We will wait and see.

What's the matter with Florida? Gilbert King's Devil in the Grove

So I picked this one to meet the Read Harder challenge, an audiobook that won an Audie. In addition to this well deserved award, Devil in the Grove also won the Pulitzer for general non-fiction.

It was a worthy pick, providing a gripping narrative of the NAACP's defence of the Groveland Boys, four African American men accused of raping a white woman in post-WW2 Jim Crow Florida. King provides vivid and humanizing depictions of the litigators as they took on truly villainous characters, such as Sheriff Willis McCall and Judge Truman Fudge, and a legal system guaranteed to produce guilty verdicts against black defendants. As good non-fiction should, the story is well paced, with the reader eager to find out what will happen next (I intentionally avoided Wikipedia to see how things concluded). The telling is also honest, not masking some of the negative legacy of Thurgood Marshall and company, especially their willingness to participate in the Red baiting anti-communism of the early McCarthyist era, being motivated not only by their desire to curry favour with the Justice Department but also to score politically against the Communist Party-led competitors that also played positive roles in fighting judicial lynchings of African Americans in the New South. 

In terms of the Read Harder aspect of the challenge, the narration is really well done, the voices well done and the deep tenor of the voice actor keeps one always on edge.

Great book.

The Book Everyone Should Read After Ghomeshi: Jon Krakauer's Missoula

This was a truly powerful book that should be read far and wide so that more people can understand how our criminal justice system, with its adherence to rape myths and unwillingness to prosecute even a small fraction of sexual assault cases, has made so challenging for victims of sexual violence. I hope that this book gets ingested beyond those already convinced, but if not it also provides strong arguments as to why so many women choose not to report rapes and why even those that manage to get their assaults tried in court face vicious prosecution from overly zealous defence council. 

One thing of note, I notice that many reviews commented after reading Missoula how horrible men are, and yes rapists absolutely are horrible. But what I found most shocking was how horrible lawyers are (and I say this as a lawyer). From insensitive or intentionally obtuse prosecutors, to the most vicious defence lawyer, the criminal justice system as it is currently designed appears so ill-suited to deal with rape and it makes one wonder if there can be a better system to deal with sexual assault. 

The Filipino Diaspora: Mia Alvar's In the Country

A really powerful collection of short stories recounting such a wide breadth of experiences of the Filipino diaspora. Ranging from the poverty filled lives of the Manila slums, to a love affair between a cleaner and a married banker killed in the 9-11 attacks, to the Boston exile of the Aquinos in the early 1980s, and concluding with the title story of a pair who are punished by the Marcos regime for the husbands activities as a rebel journalist. For a first published work, Alvar story-telling is beautiful, and subtle. Short story collections can often be uneven, but every story in this anthology rises to the occasion. One of the better reviewed works of 2015, I look forward to future Mia Alvar works

The One Where Crack Cocaine Narrates: Delicious Foods by James Hannahan

It took me a while to finally pick up this book. I knew it was going to be an emotionally difficult novel and it certainly met that expectation.

The story focuses on the fated lives of Darlene and her son Eddie. Darlene was an overachieving young black college student who fell in love with Nat, the boyfriend of a sorority sister, whose jealous outrage forced Darlene and Nat to abandon college and head off on their own. Nat gravitates to social justice activism but is killed by a gang of young racists, leaving Darlene to raise their son Eddie by herself. Darlene is gutted though, and soon turns to crack cocaine to lessen the pain. Thrown into the tailspin of addiction, Darlene's live grows immeasurably worse until a job offer at a Louisiana farm called Delicious Foods appears to offer some hope. Sadly, what awaits her there much worse than even than the pitiful life she was living.

Hannahan has written a really amazing novel, with such strong voices. The most interesting in Delicious Foods is that of Scotty, the personification of crack cocaine, whose chapters are filled with harsh attitude and cockiness you'd expect from a drug that overtakes the will of his addicts and controls their lives. Sadly this book took a while to make any shortlist for the major awards, although it eventually made the NYT's 100 Notable Books for 2015 and recently won the Pen/Faulkner Award for Fiction. 

Definitely a must read.