The sixth annual Los Angeles Times Book Prize program takes place this year on Nov. 1. Today we publish excerpts from the five books nominated for the fiction prize.
ANITA BROOKNER, Hotel du Lac (Pantheon: $13.95)
Edith Hope, a British writer, is in a Swiss hotel trying to end, by brute separation, a love affair that has profoundly offended her circle. She will return--to her country, her love, herself--but not before an unexpected proposal has shaken her confidence :
Mr. Neville sat forward and put his hands on the table. He seemed, suddenly, somewhat younger and less controlled than usual. It had been easy to think of him as a wealthy man in his fifties, fastidious, careful, leisured, attractive in a bloodless sort of way, the kind of man who gave great thought to his way of life, a man in whom appetite might turn to some anodyne hobby, the collecting of dry-point etchings or the tracing of his family tree. The kind of man who would undoubtedly have a fine library but whom it was somehow difficult to imagine in any other room of a house.
"I think you should marry me, Edith," he said.
She stared at him, her eyes widening in disbelief.
"Let me explain," he said, rather hurriedly, taking a firm grip on his composure. "I am not a romantic youth. I am, in fact, extremely discriminating. I have a small estate and a very fine house, Regency Gothic, a really beautiful example. And I have a rather well-known collection of famille rose dishes. I am sure you love beautiful things."
"You are wrong," she said, her voice cold. "I do not love things at all."
"I have a lot of business overseas," he went on, ignoring her. "And I like to entertain. I am away a certain amount of the time. But I dislike having to come back to a house only occupied by the couple who live in it when I am not there. You would fit perfectly into that setting."
A terrible silence installed itself between them. Edith concentrated her attention on the bill, fluttering unnoticed under an ashtray. When she spoke her voice was unsteady.
"You make it sound like a job specification," she said. "And I have not applied for the job."
ELIZABETH BENEDICT, Slow Dancing (Knopf: $15.95)
Lexi Steiner, a New Yorker transplanted to Los Angeles, is an idealistic young immigration lawyer with a growing reputation. David Wiley is a tough reporter who interviews her about her work. Both are in the fast lane. As their relationship grows, both pull over to the shoulder:
"Tell me something, Lexi."
"I don't know. Tell me how you ended up in L.A."
"I went to law school in San Francisco and Nell followed me there--"
"The woman I told you about. She followed me there, lived there for a few years, got bored and moved to L.A. When I graduated from law school, I followed her here. I have a feeling we're going to keep following each other across the country."
"It is. Serious and mysterious."
"Because the only person I've ever really been in love with is a woman."
"And you never slept together."
"I told you that four times."
"Have you talked about it with her?"
"Sure. We talk about everything."
She had said too much. She didn't know how she was going to answer the question that was sure to follow.
"Did you tell her about me?"
"I haven't talked to her today." A moment's respite. The truth.
"But you'll tell her, won't you?
"Probably. I'll say you asked me a lot of questions. That it was very sexy."
"Sure. Don't you think so?"
"I never thought about it."
"Women adore it when men ask them questions. I think it's a sex-linked trait." David laughed. "And the other side is sex-linked too: that hardly any men ask enough questions. Although, of course, they love it when you ask them questions. But they think it only goes one way."
JAMAICA KINCAID, Annie John (Farrar, Straus & Giroux: $11.95)
Annie John is growing up on Antigua in the still - British West Indies. Before she leaves for nursing school and England, she will have broken some of the ties that bind her to her mother. But the break comes slowly. She loves her mother very much :