Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Countdown to the Pulitzer...The Contenders for the Fiction Prize: Part 1, The Long Shots

The Pulitzer prizes will be announced on April 16th. Between now and then I will present a few short posts on possible contenders for the fiction prize.

Today I present two “long shots,” one of which I have read, one of which I haven’t.

Long Shot #1: The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt
If you scroll back one post, you will see that The Sisters Brothers won this year’s Tournament of Books. I mentioned that three of the past seven winners have gone on to win the Pulitzer. That’s not a bad track record. Moreover, it has already won and been a finalist for two other awards. It won Canada’s Governor’s General Award for Fiction and was shortlisted for the Booker Prize. Are you confused? Patrick deWitt was born in Canada but currently lives in the U.S. Therefore, he is eligible for Canadian and Commonwealth prizes by birth and should be eligible for the Pulitzer by residency. 

Still, from what I have read in reviews and commentaries (I have not read the novel), I think that deWitt’s novel will have a tough time. It is a variation on a “Western,” but variation should certainly be stressed; it is certainly more “literary” than “genre.” And yet, I don’t see much evidence of recent Pulitzer committees embracing anything verging on “genre.” Cormac McCarthy’s dystopic-esque The Road won in 2007, but most other recent winners lacked such a category beyond “literary fiction.” This is likely because of the prize is described as going to “distinguished fiction by an American author, preferably dealing with American life.” (emphasis mine) Stories verging on genre might have a hard time fitting into this framework. Still, The Sisters Brothers does explore a real era of American history, even if it has been made more fantastical, and it has also garnered enough acclaim to be in the running.

Long Shot #2: The Thousand Saints by Eleanor Henderson

It has been over a year since I read this debut novel. I remember liking it a great deal, but maybe not *loving* it. (It's a book I want to re-read, for sure, if that says anything!) Still, it shares some traits with past Pulitzer winners: it explores a specific time and place in American history, in this case New York City in the 1980s. It highlights the punk rock movement, confronts the AIDS epidemic and paints a vivid portrait of the (then) gritty East Village. A major strike against it winning may be the fact that last year’s winner A Visit from the Good Squad had a similar setting (New York City and its environs) and some similar themes (punk rock). Ideally the Pulitzer judges should be choosing on a novel which they think is the best of the year under the guidelines of the prize, without consideration of “diversity.” * Still, I can’t imagine that a consideration such as that would go undiscussed. It has been nominated for the Art Seidenbaum Award for First Fiction (given as part of the LA Times Book Prizes); named one of the top five fiction books of 2011 by the New York Times; and named to the best of year lists by other publications. It’s in the running.

*Actually, an interesting note on how the award is decided: A judging panel, mostly of writers and reviewers selects three finalists that are then passed on the Pulitzer board, which makes the final selection of a winner. The two others become announced “finalists.” Thus, two committees are involved. I supposed anything can happen!

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