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Who will win on Wednesday night?
MAYBE THE NATIONAL Book Award nominations haven't created the buzz of Britain's Booker Prize, where betting shops make book on the winner, and where the absence of Martin Amis among the nominees was front-page news. But the lists suggest how tough it is to achieve consensus on quality. And, as November 15, decision night, approaches, it's worth taking a look at some of the details behind the nominees.
Other than Philip Roth, whose Sabbath's Theater (Houghton Mifflin) marks his fifth NBA nomination (he won in 1960 for Goodbye Columbus), the fiction list contains no big names. It does, however, feature two well-reviewed veterans, Madison Smartt Bell (All Souls' Rising, from Pantheon) and Stephen Dixon (Interstate, Henry Holt), for whom a win might provide crucial commercial impetus. Dixon is a former NBA nominee, but Interstate-- eight alternate versions of a horrible highway murder--so far sold just over 8000 copies, his publisher reports. And Bell began his author tour four days before the nomination was announced, so his profile got a boost.
There's a Caribbean flavor to the fiction list. Bell's book concerns the Haitian slave rebellion that led to independence, while …