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Ling Ma, Isaac Butler and Morgan Talty among National Book Critics Circle Award winners

Emily St. Martin, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

Ling Ma, Morgan Talty, Boris Dralyuk and Isaac Butler are among the winners of the 2022 National Book Critics Circle Awards announced during a ceremony Thursday night at the New School in New York City.

Ma earned the prize in fiction for "Bliss Montage: Stories," her debut story collection, filled with offbeat stories that nod to her knack for surrealism: A woman living with all of her ex-boyfriends; friends popping pills that make them invisible; a yeti who seduces a woman to the smooth soundtrack of Janet Jackson.

"Ma rides a good concept when she finds one," Hillary Kelly wrote in a Los Angeles Times review of "Bliss Montage," a followup to "Severance," her widely acclaimed dystopian debut novel. She "pulls at the flesh of this juicy morsel until it is so distorted that it can no longer safely hold the seed at its center," Kelly added.

Talty won the John Leonard Prize, awarded to a debut book in any category, for his short story collection, "Night of the Living Rez." The linked stories illuminate a harsh reality of life for a young Native American living in the Panawahpskek (Penobscot) Nation of Maine. Talty compassionately explores family and inheritance, poverty, mental illness and drug addiction through a contemporary lens.

Butler received the nonfiction award for "The Method: How the Twentieth Century Learned to Act," a work that chronicles the history of the influential Method approach to acting as if it were a biography of a concept, beginning with its origin at the turn of the 20th century.

In an L.A. Times review, Sheana Ochoa called it "engaging and meticulously researched," adding that, "Like a good 19th century omniscient novelist, Butler hops seamlessly among his characters' points of view while recounting their lives and times ... gracefully balancing on the right side of that fine line between contextualizing and condescending to the reader."


Hua Hsu took home the autobiography award for "Stay True: A Memoir," a coming-of-age story that dives deep into the friendship between two Asian American college students as they navigate American culture and build a bond from shared cigarettes and deep conversation. The book explores meaning, belonging and grief.

Beverly Gage won in the biography category for "G-Man: J. Edgar Hoover and the Making of the American Century," which drew from never-before-seen sources to create a full portrait of Hoover's life and career, placing him at the center of American political history to explore the evolution of governance, political culture and power.

"G-Man: J. Edgar Hoover and the Making of the American Century" was also a finalist for the 43rd Los Angeles Times Book Prize in biography.

The award for criticism went to Timothy Bewes for "Free Indirect: The Novel in a Postfictional Age." The NBCC's Jennie Hann wrote, "The genius of 'Free Indirect' inheres in the fact that, even while Bewes illustrates the limitations of traditional approaches to the study of the novel, he somehow finds a way to transcend them. The result is a densely-packed volume that erupts with insight on every page."


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