Monday, April 9, 2012

Countdown to the Pulitzer...The Contenders for the Fiction Prize: Part 2, The Middle of the Pack

The Pulitzer prizes will be announced on April 16th. This is my second post looking at possible contenders for the fiction prize. If you haven’t, please read the first post on the long shots.

These posts are predictions of the final outcome, not necessarily what I think the outcome should be. As I mentioned in a footnote to my previous post, the way that the final winner is chosen is interesting. A jury of fiction “experts” (writers, reviewers, and academics) chooses three books and forwards them to the full Pulitzer Board. The Board, mostly comprised of journalists, chooses the final winner. (The two other become named “finalists.”) Thus, the Pulitzer is different from the National Book Award, National Book Critics Circle Award, and PEN/Hemingway Award which are chosen by people who read literature more widely.

I can see circumstances under which the Board might not choose the book which the jury liked best. In fact, although it has not happened recently, there have been multiple years where the Pulitzer Board rejected all three of the jury’s finalists and chose not to give the award at all. 

Middle of the Pack #1: The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach

A few months ago this was my frontrunner/favorite to win. Upon further reflection, and upon reading some other remarkable books, it has dropped from that place of honor. I feel like the story of (mostly) young people on a small college campus may be too “insular” a story to honor. My friend Amy made an interesting (somewhat) related comment in December. (Also, if you haven’t read her excellent guest post, please do!) As Amy stated, the writing is often good, but rarely awe-inspiring. The story is good, but not deep. I would add that it’s not especially thought provoking. To me, the characters are certainly memorable, but I’m not sure that the story is. Still, it is in the hunt. I would not be at all surprised to see it as a named finalist. 

Middle of the Pack #2: Binocular Vision: New and Selected Stories by Edith Pearlman

I am only about 1/3 through this collection of 34 stories, but I almost made this one a “favorite.” (Stay tuned for that post.) I mostly changed my mind based on the Pulitzer Board having the final say. The stories are lovely. From what I’ve read, they are certainly award worthy. In fact, the collection has already won the National Book Critics Circle Award. (It was also a finalist for the National Book Award.) Apparently, Pearlman has been known in “literary” circles for years—she is 76 and has been publishing short stories since 1969—but has not found as wide a readership as other short story writers, such as Alice Munro. I must admit, I was fully ignorant of Pearlman's work. When she was nominated for the National Book Award in October, I saw comments on Twitter from people who were thrilled that she was "finally" being "recognized." I was very curious to learn more about her. I am excited to complete her collection, and read some of her other work. Still, I can’t help but feel that this collection will not resonate with the journalists on the Pulitzer Board. And yet, I will not be at all surprised if it wins.

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