This year’s finalists include the following (in no particular order):
Both a straight-talker and a poet at heart, Joey Harvell revisits his childhood home in Arkansas to plumb the wildness that still ricochets out from those early years: his “real-deal” mother, his violent step-dad, his kinship with a kindly Cherokee family, and the blistering ride that Joey takes to manhood. In these powerful linked short stories, Michael Gills’ love of language in service of deep understanding shines.
When first we enter “the house across from the deaf school,” it is on the day Joey’s parents marry and leave him on the front porch while they consummate their union. Their marital bliss lasts about an hour. Then dire reality sets in. Years later, when Joey enters that same house, breaking and entering to gain access, he walks into his childhood: “The slant of light through the windows and the way the floor feels beneath my feet. An odor, or the trace of an odor that sneaks deep into you the way a piece of clothing from a person dead thirty years can take you right there . . .” The reader is right there as well, lost in a dim house as a man grapples with his hardscrabble past, a past that keeps coming round to haunt him.
Or does Joey Harvell haunt his past? As author William Gibson has intoned, “Time moves in one direction, memory in another.”
The pig slaughter, the hard tackles, the sucker punches, the betrayals, all trespass into Joey’s present. He longs to know, examine, refract. “Arkansas was, and remains . . . a frontier state,” he tells us. That frontier heat still pumps his veins. As a longtime university professor, with a wife and daughter, Joey cannot help but wonder whether he actually did get out of Lonoke, Arkansas, alive. And the way his past and present tangle up, you have to wonder with him.
Deep inside Gills’ unflinching masculine honesty come moments of generosity and grace, “inhabiting the place where the day is forever at hand.” In this fine book, a man looks back with real attention to embrace his past—all of it—to hold it, admit it, claim it, circle it round. Time’s stubborn arrow bends to human will in Michael Gills’ generous imagination.
Desolation Flats (Minotaur), by Andrew Hunt
With his novel, Desolation Flats, Andrew Hunt delivers a period piece of intrigue set in a volatile time just before World War II when Nazi propaganda collides with speed, mystery, and Mormonism. Hunt takes the reader to the stark white nothing of the Bonneville Salt Flats where men push themselves and their vehicles to break speed records across the flat ashen expanse at whatever cost.
DesolationFlats is a novel of Utah in our father’s and grandfather’s age when we would have thought the world was innocent. But Hunt’s version is anything but that. Murder. Espionage. Sexy Nazi Frauleins. International repercussions. The FBI. The novel takes the reader on a breakneck tour of northern Utah all along the Wasatch Front and west to Wendover.
Desolation Flats embodies the state and its people in a time forgotten but so far-sighted in today’s ill-timed America.
Playing with Fire (Severn House), by Gerald Elias
The newest novel in Gerald Elias’ series featuring Daniel Jacobus, a blind, retired violinist, is a mystery that highlights the professional side of the violin trade, including some playing of the instrument, but the story centers on the making, insuring and dealing. Which sounds like it could get dull, but like anything of value, there is a seedy underbelly of fraud in the selling and insuring of violins.
The story begins on Christmas Eve, when Jacobus and his friends’ evening is interrupted by a panicked call from a local violin maker. The next day, Jacobus learns the violinmaker is missing and his house has been burned down. The local police enlist Jacobus’ expertise and the mystery unfolds as Jacobus and his friends work to solve the mystery, as it continues to complicate.
Gerald Elias should be commended for creating such strong characters, particularly the main character. Daniel Jacobus is not terribly likeable, but that is part of why he’s strong. Jacobus is memorable and engaging in his flaws, and his actions throughout agree with the established character. The next point of praise must be the story line itself—it is an unexpected combination of the professional music world and criminal corruption that pulls the reader along.
The winner of the award will be announced in September during the Utah Humanities Book Festival. Stay tuned for the award ceremonies and readings. Finalists in poetry, creative nonfiction and art book will be announced soon.
15 Bytes and its publisher Artists of Utah thanks everyone who nominated a book for this award and for their support of the literary arts in the Beehive State.
Congratulations to the finalists!
David Pace is a writer and literary editor of 15 Bytes. Author of the novel “Dream House on Golan Drive,” (Signature Books), his creative work has also appeared in Quarterly West, ellipsis…literature and art, Alligator Juniper, Sunstone, Dialogue and reprinted/posted in Phone Fiction. His by-line has also appeared in the Christian Science Monitor, American Theatre, Huffington Post and elsewhere. www.davidgpace.com