The Believer Book Award

EDITORS' SHORT LIST

Each year, the editors of The Believer generate a short list of the novels and story collections they thought were the most affecting and best written of the year. The 2017 list appears below. The winner from the following short list will be announced in the next issue. In that issue we will also include the results of our reader survey.

MacArthur Park by Andrew Durbin (Nightboat Books)

Andrew Durbin’s debut novel follows a writer as he travels on assignment and begins to conceive of a book about disaster. On the surface, it is a book about the weather—but it is also about the art world, different types of apocalypses, Tom of Finland, cults, and sex. Durbin masterfully blends essay and fiction, and the end result is both a wry exegesis of climate change and an astoundingly real and complex portrait of life lived in the early twenty-first century. 

Temporary People by Deepak Unnikrishnan (Restless Books)

Set in the United Arab Emirates, this book explores the lives of guest workers—immigrants who work grueling, low-paying jobs in the extravagant metropolises of Abu Dhabi and Dubai. Unnikrishnan lives in the UAE and, given the country’s history of censorship and retaliation against writers and journalists, faced personal and political risk to publish this book. We are fortunate that he did.

Jenny Zhang.png

Sour Heart by Jenny Zhang (Lenny Books)

The chops on display in this debut story collection are breathtaking and undeniable. With her airborne, somersaulting sentences Zhang seems always on the verge of losing her way, but, somehow, she always sticks the landing. Set in the outer boroughs of New York and on Long Island, these linked stories explore the experiences of young Chinese American girls as they navigate the joys and miseries of childhood. Often funny, frequently moving, and always alive, this one is not to be missed.    

I’m Fine, But You Appear to Be Sinking by Leyna Krow (Featherproof Books)

Leyna Krow’s luminously glum debut comes front-loaded with an “Index of Things to Come” in which, appropriately enough, Visions of the future has eight entries. (AstronautsBoats, and Breakfast foods have seven.) There’s one entry for Fish-out-of-water (literally), whereas Fish-out-of-water (metaphorically) occurs “throughout.” This is a faithful first glimpse of Krow’s talent for evoking a grand celestial malaise while playing it out through deeply human means: her characters, like her stories, are clever and self-aware in their lonesomeness, never quite prone to the lyricism their lots in life might warrant. The sum total is breathtaking, but in a slow way, as though the oxygen weighs just a little too much on this planet which both is and isn’t our own.

Matthew Rohrer.png

The Others by Matthew Rohrer (Wave Books)

This novel-in-verse is structured like a Russian nesting doll, with each narrative emerging from the one that precedes it. The text vaults from Midtown Manhattan to nineteenth-century Paris to a fictional island nation in the near future. It is a delightful book, full of surprises, vivid writing, and robot bigfoots. Rohrer has achieved something very fine here, crafting a story that refuses to resolve, but never loses our interest.