Monday, April 16, 2012

Countdown to the Pulitzer...Part 4: My Final Predictions

This is my 4th and final post in my “Countdown to the Pulitzer” series. The prizes for journalism, letters and the arts will be announced today at 3pm.

To recap, I have written three other posts, each featuring two pairs of books:

The Long Shots: The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt and Ten Thousand Saints by Eleanor Henderson. (See post here.)

The “Middle of the Road” Contenders: Binocular Vision by Edith Pearlman and The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach. (See post here.)

The Favorites: The Angel Esmeralda by Don Delillo and Open City by Teju Cole (See post here.)

First, I recently learned that I had not done careful enough research regarding eligibility. Patrick deWitt is not eligible to win because authors must be U.S. citizens, not merely residents to be eligible. (In fact, he was also ineligible because his book was first published in Canada. Eligible books must be first published in the U.S.)

In place of The Sisters Brothers, I am going to substitute in another “long shot”: The Submission by Amy Waldman. This debut novel follows a committee designing a memorial to a terrorist attack. The attack looks much like 9/11, occurring in New York City and with similar perpetrators, but it has fictionalized elements. The tension in the novel comes when the winning design, chosen through a blind submission, is revealed to have been submitted by a Muslim-American. The novel tackles important and thought provoking issues of racism, fear and forgiveness. Still, it is squarely in the “long shot” camp. The prose is at times cumbersome, and the setting doesn’t work in its favor. As I mentioned when writing about Ten Thousand Saints, and Open City, I feel like the Pulitzer committee may be apprehensive to honor two books set in New York City in back-to-back years. (Last year’s winner A Visit from the Goon Squad was primarily set in New York and its environs.)

My predictions

The prize is announced with a winner and two, unranked, finalists. My predictions are:

Winner: The Angel Esmeralda by Don Delillo

Finalist: Open City by Teju Cole

Finalist: Binocular Vision by Edith Pearlman

It is true that the title story of Delillo’s collection takes place in New York, and thus I am, somewhat, undermining my argument regarding a non-New York book winning. Still, the collection is not New York centric; the other stories take place in other places, some of them abroad. In fact, an argument could be made that the collection doesn’t fulfill the criteria of the prize, which is supposed to honor a work of fiction “preferably dealing with American life.” Still, there plenty of previous winners which don’t fully deal with American life. Conversely, there are very few examples of books with non-American characters, in non-American settings winning. This is the reason why I have completely discounted one of my favorite books from last year, The Tiger’s Wife.

As I have written previously, my intention has been to predict the final outcome, not to make my own personal selection.  The Angel Esmeralda was not necessarily one of my favorite books from 2011, but it was an excellent, memorable collection. As I have considered all of the factors which I can think of, honoring DeLillio makes the most sense to me. Still, the Pulitzer Board sometimes makes surprising decisions, such as in 2010 when the little-known Tinkers by Paul Harding won.  Part of me would not be surprised if this year’s prize went to a book that no one is talking about. There really isn’t a clear frontrunner like eventual winners A Visit from the Goon Squad was last year and The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao was in 2008. Regardless of the outcome, I am excited to write more about it later this week. Stay tuned.

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