12 June 09 | Chad W. Post

As announced yesterday, Michael Thomas has won this year’s International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award for his novel Man Gone Down (Grove).

Here’s the description from the Grove website:

A beautifully written, insightful, and devastating first novel, Man Gone Down is about a young black father of three in a biracial marriage trying to claim a piece of the American Dream he has bargained on since youth.

On the eve of the unnamed narrator’s thirty-fifth birthday, he finds himself broke, estranged from his white Boston Brahmin wife and three children, and living in the bedroom of a friend’s six-year-old child. He has four days to come up with the money to keep his family afloat, four days to try to make some sense of his life. He’s been getting by working
construction jobs though he’s known on the streets as “the professor,” as he was expected to make something out of his life.

Alternating between his past—as a child in inner-city Boston, he was bussed to the suburbs as part of the doomed attempts at integration in the 1970s—and the present in New York City where he is trying mightily to keep his children in private schools, we learn of his mother’s abuses, his father’s abandonment, raging alcoholism, and the best and worst intentions of a supposedly integrated America.

This is an extraordinary debut. It is a story of the American Dream gone awry, about what it’s like to feel preprogrammed to fail in life—and the urge to escape that sentence.

And from the jury:

“We never know his name. But the African-American protagonist of Michael Thomas’ masterful debut, Man Gone Down, will stay with readers for a long time. He lingers because this extraordinary novel comes to us from a writer of enthralling voice and startling insight. Tuned urgently to the way we live now, the winner of the International Dublin IMPAC Prize 2009 is a novel brilliant in its scope and energy, and deeply moving in its human warmth.”

The IMPAC is one of the richest literary awards in the world—Thomas will receive €100,000—and has brought a good deal of success and attention to recent winners, which include Per Petterson’s Out Stealing Horses, Rawi Hage’s De Niro’s Game, and Colm Tóibín’s The Master.


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