Ward Just (Houghton Mifflin)
Edwidge Danticat (Knopf)
Judged by Margaret Mason
The Dew Breaker is a torturer, so named because he often arrives before dawn to carry away his targets. This novel revolves around 1960s Haiti, during the murderous reign of Francois Duvalier. Danticat writes a series of interwoven stories about the torturer’s family and his victims. Each of the characters dwells on the past, and Danticat skillfully shows how terror can cast the future into a suspended state of uncertainty.
An Unfinished Season is a leisurely novel set in Chicago during the Cold War. In the summer before Wilson Ravan leaves for college, he watches his father struggle with a strike at the family business, takes a job at the gritty city newspaper, and frequents the debutante circuit, where he falls in love. It is a coming-of-age tale, but one stripped of the forced precociousness and irritating characteristics of a young man on the verge of maturity. Just explores power and individuality, and how they intersect to form identity. He cleverly manages to satisfy the reader while leaving some questions unanswered, creating a parallel with his protagonist’s penchant for mystery.
I enjoyed both novels, and was initially more intrigued by Danticat’s premise for The Dew Breaker; however, Just is an exceptional writer. An Unfinished Season was a stretching, sighing pleasure to read. It’s layered, intelligent, and thoughtful, and the language is both rich and straightforward. I feel as though I could read it several times and find something new with each pass.
Judge: Margaret Mason
Types of books you tend to read frequently:
I read mostly older fiction. The kinds of things teachers assign in high school and college.
Types of books you rarely read:
I almost never read memoirs or non-fiction historical or political books.
Favorite book of all time: