Monday the National Book Critics Circle announced the finalists for its 1999 awards:
A. Manette Ansay, "Midnight Champagne" (Morrow)
Frederick Busch, "The Night Inspector" (Harmony/Crown)
J.M. Coetzee, "Disgrace" (Viking)
David Gates, "The Wonders of the Invisible World: Stories" (Knopf)
Jonathan Lethem, "Motherless Brooklyn" (Doubleday)
Jane Brox, "Five Thousand Days Like This One: An American Family History" (Beacon)
John W. Dower, "Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II" (W.W. Norton)
Patricia Hampl, "I Could Tell You Stories: Sojourns in the Land of Memory" (W.W. Norton)
Jean-Paul Kauffmann, "The Black Room at Longwood: Napoleon's Exile on Saint Helena" (Four Walls Eight Windows)
Jonathan Weiner, "Time, Love, Memory: A Great Biologist and His Quest for the Origins of Behavior" (Knopf)
Richard Holmes, "Coleridge, Volume II: Darker Reflections" (Pantheon)
Jean Strouse, "Morgan: American Financier" (Random House)
Judith Thurman, "Secrets of the Flesh: A Life of Colette" (Knopf)
Susan E. Tifft and Alex S. Jones, "The Trust: The Private and Powerful Family Behind the New York Times" (Little, Brown)
Henry Wiencek, "The Hairstons: An American Family in Black and White" (St. Martin's)
Rafael Campo, "Diva" (Duke University Press)
Tory Dent, "HIV, Mon Amour" (Sheep Meadow)
Rita Dove, "On the Bus with Rosa Parks" (W.W. Norton)
Susan Kinsolving, "Dailies and Rushes" (Grove)
Ruth Stone, "Ordinary Words" (Paris Press)
Jorge Luis Borges, "Selected Non-Fictions" (Viking)
Stuart Klawans, "Film Follies: The Cinema Out of Order" (Cassell)
William Logan, "Reputations of the Tongue: On Poets and Poetry" (University Press of Florida)
Michael Schmidt, "Lives of the Poets" (Knopf)
David Shields, "Black Planet: Facing Race During an NBA Season" (Crown)
The fiction judges seem to have been in a serious state of mind: Most of the nominees have either a noirish setting or a distinctly grim theme. J.M. Coetzee's Booker Prize-winning novel "Disgrace" is a lament for the futility of politics in the new South Africa, while David Gates' story collection "The Wonders of the Invisible World" riffs on home-grown American emotional desolation and malaise. Two of the nominees experiment with genre, melding the hard-boiled and the literary: Frederick Busch's "The Night Inspector," set just after the Civil War, sends a disillusioned, disfigured veteran on a suspenseful personal mission; Jonathan Lethem's sui generis "Motherless Brooklyn" (a 1999 Salon Book Awards winner) gets inside the head of an amateur detective who has Tourette's syndrome. Only A. Manette Ansay's "Midnight Champagne" sets off on a lighthearted course, with a hastily called wedding bringing together an antic, opinionated group of guests -- though the novel does make room for an angry act of violence and a restless ghost.
Mood-wise, the nonfiction nominees are more mixed, running the gamut from heavy-duty world history to lyrical family history, from scientific inquiry to freewheeling philosophical exploration. Jane Brox's "Five Thousand Days Like This One," the story of her family's New England farm, and Patricia Hampl's "I Could Tell You Stories," her essays on the uses of memoir, both take off from the authors' own stories. There are also weighty tomes like John W. Dower's study of post-World War II Japan, "Embracing Defeat," and Jean-Paul Kauffmann's rumination on Napoleon on Saint Helena, "The Black Room at Longwood." A portrait of molecular biologists at work on big, tricky questions of inherited behavior, "Time, Love, Memory," by Jonathan Weiner, rounds out the category.
National Book Award and Salon Book Awards winner Judith Thurman's "Secrets of the Flesh," a lavish treatment of the French writer Colette's life, added another feather to its cap with a nomination in the biography/autobiography category. Thurman shares space with Volume II of Richard Holmes' Coleridge bio; Jean Strouse's life of J.P. Morgan; and two family biographies, Susan E. Tifft and Alex S. Jones' "The Trust: The Private and Powerful Family Behind the New York Times" and Henry Wiencek's "The Hairstons," a portrait of the black and white branches of a sprawling Southern family.
Founded in 1974, the NBCC is a nonprofit organization of book editors and critics with some 750 members nationwide.