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National Book Critics Circle Award winners announced

February 28, 2013|By Hector Tobar
  • "Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk" by first-time novelist Ben Fountain won for fiction, "Swimming Studies" by Leanne Shapton won for autobiography, and "Useless Landscape, or A Guide for Boys" by D.A. Powell won for poetry.
"Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk" by first-time novelist… (HarperCollins; Penguin…)

First-time novelist Ben Fountain won the National Book Critics Circle Award for fiction Thursday for “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk,” a darkly comic send-up of the emotional and cultural aftermath of the Iraq War.

The awards were announced in a ceremony in New York. Roberto Caro won the biography award for “The Passage of Power: The Years of Lyndon Johnson,” the fourth installment in Caro’s magisterial biography of the thirty-sixth president.

The winner in the nonfiction category was Andrew Solomon, for “Far From the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity,” a book which the critics’ citation described as “a groundbreaking look at family relationships with children who are radically different from their parents' expectations in physical, mental, and behavioral ways.”

Other winners included, in poetry, D.A. Powell for “Useless Landscape, or A Guide for Boys," and in criticism, Marina Warner for "Stranger Magic: Charmed States and the Arabian Nights."

Leanne Shapton won in the autobiography category for “Swimming Studies,” a memoir of her youth as a Canadian swimmer with unrealized Olympic dreams, and her subsequent career as an artist.

“As few people can, Shapton draws a connection between making art and being an athlete, focusing on the unending effort it takes to do well,” Carolyn Kellogg wrote in her review for The Times.

Of all the winners announced Thursday, few have had a journey to success as long as Fountain, who quit his job as a lawyer and spent 18 years writing fiction before his first collection of short stories, “Brief Encounters With Che Guervara,” was published in 2006.

Fountain’s second book, “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk,” follows one group of Iraq War veterans through one intense, surreal Thanksgiving Day, as they visit Cowboys Stadium in Dallas to take part in the halftime show with Beyoncé and the Cowboys' cheerleaders.

“Fountain's novel is not a work of realism; it's an über-story, defined by irony and metaphor,” Kellogg wrote in her review for The Times. “Texas Stadium stands in for America, where the wealthy in their special section have access and privilege completely alien to Billy and his fellow soldiers.”

 hector.tobar@latimes.com

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