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Faces To Watch 2009

December 28, 2008|David L. Ulin

Stacey D'Erasmo

THIRD NOVEL COULD BE A BREAKTHROUGH

Stacey D'Erasmo's third novel, "The Sky Below," has its roots in journalism; its protagonist is an obituary writer for a paper in Manhattan. "You've seen me," the book opens. "I'm the guy opposite you on the subway or the bus, I've passed you on the street a million times." Yes . . . but no, not really, for D'Erasmo has something more in mind. Her story is not about dissolution but redemption -- a revolutionary concept for a journalist these days.

Journalism is a territory D'Erasmo knows firsthand; she's a former senior editor at the Village Voice Literary Supplement. In 1995, she went to Stanford University as a Stegner Fellow, and she published her first novel, "Tea," in January 2000. "The Sky Below," though, could be her breakthrough, a book that moves back and forth between the real world and the elaborate layers of its characters' inner life.

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Jonathan Littell

BOAT ROCKER HAS CAPTIVATED FRANCE

Jonathan Littell would be a face to watch even if his second novel, "The Kindly Ones," weren't coming out in the United States. It's just that kind of book, and he appears to be that kind of writer, ambitious and controversial, unafraid to stir it up. Published in France in 2006, "The Kindly Ones" is constructed as a memoir, the story of Max Aue, a French intellectual who also happens to be a former Nazi officer. Sprawling, graphic and unrelenting, the book won the Grand Prix du Roman de l'Academie Francaise and the Prix Goncourt -- two of France's most prestigious literary awards -- and HarperCollins reportedly paid $1 million for the American rights.

Littell is the son of American suspense novelist Robert Littell ("The Defection of A.J. Lewinter," "The Company"), although he's lived in Europe for much of his life. But if "The Kindly Ones" lives up to its billing, he may be a writer who knows no boundaries, of either the geographic or the literary kind.

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Abraham Lincoln

OBAMA FAVE GETS HIS BICENTENNIAL DUE

It seems strange to say about someone who's been dead for 143 years, but Abraham Lincoln may be the cultural icon of the coming year. Feb. 12 marks his 200th birthday, and there are dozens of new books scheduled to commemorate the moment, including Ronald C. White Jr.'s massive "A. Lincoln: A Biography" and the Library of America's "The Lincoln Anthology," which features a century and a half of writing, beginning with William Dean Howells, Nathaniel Hawthorne and Karl Marx and continuing on to Gore Vidal, Mario Cuomo and E.L. Doctorow.

Then, there's the matter of Barack Obama, who appears intent on invoking Lincoln every chance he gets. Lincoln has never fallen out of favor -- more books are published about him annually than about any other American. But between his bicentennial and the affections of Obama, this could be the year that, in some strange way we still can't quite imagine, the 16th president comes into his own.

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