Judge’s Comments (Fiction): 2015


Adrienne Celt
The Daughters
Liveright / W. W. Norton

Judge: Antonio Ruiz-Camacho

The three finalists for this year’s award challenge us to ask ourselves where would we, as individuals, be without a group to belong to, without a family to care for, without a community to protect.

While all three are very different to one another in their scope, range, and theme, what makes all of them notable is their arresting prose and literary ambition.

Peter J. Story’s Things Grak Hates is both a parable and a satiric cautionary tale about power and authoritarianism. Grak’s tale is full of humor, wisdom and, ultimately, tenderness. Story wrote an engaging novel that highlights the perils of falling for the loudest but often times more ill-informed or flat-out ignorant voices in our hyperpolarized current public debate. It is a relevant book for our times.

David Haynes’s A Star in the Face of the Sky is a story of loss, grief, desire, redemption and endurance that defies preconceptions and prejudices about love, family, race, class, and faith. Skillfully told in a voice that is many voices all at once, Haynes created a wise, searing and yet hopeful reading experience about the power of friendship, resilience and forgiveness in a moment where race relations in America demand a compassionate, inclusive new approach.

Adrienne Celt’s The Daughters is a beautifully written family saga where myth, fate, art, guilt and forgiveness shape the journey of several generations of women as they strive for the hardest of connections: family. Lulu, the protagonist, is a renowned soprano who has recently become a mother and who faces the possibility of not being able to sing again due to an ancient curse that has afflicted all the mothers in her family. Her journey to discover the truth about her clan’s own myths will reveal something even larger: the complexities and challenges that surround modern motherhood, art, and human connection in a world marked by the incessant demands of success and individuality. Celt’s first novel is moving and powerful.

The winner of the 2015 PEN Texas Southwest Book Award for Fiction is Adrienne Celt’s The Daughters.

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