Fra Keeler

Honoree, 5 Under 35 2015

Fra Keeler cover

Dorothy |
Azareen Van der Vliet Oloomi by Beowulf Sheehan
Azareen Van der Vliet Oloomi

Azareen Van Der Vliet Oloomi is the author of the novels Savage Tongues and Call Me Zebra, which won the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction and the John Gardner Award, was longlisted for the PEN Open Book Award, and named a best book of the year by over twenty publications. More about this author >

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A man purchases a house, the house of Fra Keeler, moves in, and begins investigating the circumstances of the latter’s death. Yet the investigation quickly turns inward, and the reality it seeks to unravel seems only to grow more strange, as the narrator pursues not leads but lines of thought, most often to hideous conclusions.

Judges Citation

When I began reading this novel I remembered that there's a few lines from the end of an essay that Flannery O'Connor published 65 years ago, and I've been stuck on those lines for a while now. O'Connor in the essay isn't defending her own work, so much as she is the work of all writers who are invested in a strange and difficult brand of fiction—one that doesn't offer any resolution or comfort, one that dwells on the strange mystery of existence. We all know that labels in literature are often pointless, but if I had no choice but to brand Azareen's novel Fra Keeler, I would say that it belongs to the category of fiction that in O'Connor's words is "a descent through the darkness of the familiar into a world where, like the blind man cured in the gospels, he sees men as if they were trees, but walking." Fra Keeler is a book that on every page disturbs, distorts, disrupts the reader's way of seeing and reading. I read this novel in two days, and for two days I felt tired and restless because suddenly I wanted more from every sentence I encountered, from every word I thought of writing. The risks this novel takes are numerous, and so are the rewards—not only for the reader but for all of us who care for and love literature, who want and need to read books that defy easy categorization. Here in this novel is a necessary affirmation a writer's singular gaze, of the novel's ability to lift the familiar veil from our eyes so that we can all see a little bit better, so we can all live a little bit richer. – Dinaw Mengestu


Azareen Van der Vliet Oloomi reads at the 2015 5 Under 35 Celebration

Q&A with the 2015 NBF 5 Under 35 Honorees