NEW YORK -- Richard Powers's "The Echo Maker," a scientific tale of memory and identity in the age of Sept. 11 and the Iraq war, won the National Book Award for fiction last night, honoring a widely respected author with a small but passionate readership.
Timothy Egan's Dust Bowl history, "The Worst Hard Time" won for nonfiction; Nathaniel Mackey's musical and mystical "Splay
Winners each receive $10,000, runners-up $1,000.
"The Echo Maker" includes passages on neurology and clinical psychology in a story about a man who loses his memory in a car crash and the sister who agonizes over his failure to recognize her.
Powers's award also continues a long tradition of literary prizes for publisher Farrar, Straus & Giroux, which in recent years has won numerous Pulitzers and National Book Awards with such works as Jonathan Franzen's "The Corrections" and Marilynne Robinson's "Gilead."
"I am deeply indebted to FSG for encouraging me to work in total freedom for the last 12 years, writing books that have not always been easy to market or classify," Powers said in his acceptance speech.
Powers's book refers often to the news of the time, setting his narrative against the shock of the terrorist attacks and the determined path to the Iraq war.
Two fiction finalists were equally topical; Jess Walters's "The Zero" and Ken Kalfus's "A Disorder Peculiar to the Country" were both set directly after Sept. 11, 2001.
The other nominees were Mark Z. Danielewski's free-verse, time-traveling "Only Revolutions," and Dana Spiotta's "Eat the Document," a story of 1970s radicals hiding their past.