Book Critics Circle awards go to Smiley, Faludi and Roth

February 17, 1992|By Tim Warren | Tim Warren,Book Editor

ATHOUSAND Acres," Jane Smiley's novel about a troubled Iowa farm family, as won the National Book Critics Circle Award for fiction, it was announced yesterday.

Susan Faludi's "Backlash: The Undeclared War Against Woman," a much-discussed work that has been a best-seller as well, won in the general non-fiction category.

Philip Roth's "Patrimony: A True Story," a moving elegy to his father, took the prize in biography/autobiography. That category was especially competitive: Nominees included "The Journals of John Cheever," Art Spiegelman's "Maus II" and "The Man Who Knew Infinity: A Life of the Genius Ramanujan," a biography of an Indian mathematical prodigy that was written by Baltimore author Robert Kanigel.

In poetry, the prize went to "Heaven and Earth: A Cosmology," by Albert Goldbarth. It won out over, among other works, "The Ether Dome and Other Poems: New and Selected (1979 to 1991)," by Allen Grossman, who is teaching this year in the Writing Seminars at Johns Hopkins University.

The criticism prize went to "Holocaust Testimonies: The Ruins of Memory," by Lawrence L. Langer.

Of the three major literary prizes in the United States -- the Pulitzer, the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award -- the NBCC's are considered to have the least impact on sales and critical reputations, although they still carry considerable weight within the publishing industry.

Ms. Smiley, a well-regarded novelist and short story writer, had been nominated for the NBCC award in 1987 for "The Age of Grief" and in 1989 for "Ordinary Love and Good Will." She won out over some strong contenders, including Louis Begley's "Wartime Lies," Gish Jen's "Typical American" and Norman Rush's "Mating," a first novel that was the surprise winner of the National Book Award for fiction in November.

So far, it has not been a good season for "name" fiction writers: Among the notable names missing from the nominees for both the National Book Award and the NBCC Award were Norman Mailer, Anne Tyler and Harold Brodkey.

Mr. Roth had won NBCC's fiction award in 1987 for his novel "The Counterlife." He was nominated three other times.

Ms. Faludi won in non-fiction over Jonathan Kozol's much-praised "Savage Inequalities: Children in America's Schools."

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