Friday, April 13, 2012

Countdown to the Pulitzer...The Contenders for the Fiction Prize: Part 3, The Favorites

The Pulitzer prizes, including the prize for fiction, will be announced on Monday at 3pm Eastern time. This is my third post regarding the possible contenders. If you haven’t already, please read my posts on the long shots and the middle of the road possibilities. As I mentioned before, these posts are my predictions of the final outcome, based on a multitude of factors, not necessarily what I think the final outcome should be.

I will post a final prediction, with some short (shorter than here!) thoughts, on Sunday. 
Please return then.

Favorite #1: Open City by Teju Cole

This was one the many remarkable debut novels of 2011. It has already won the PEN/Hemingway Award for first books of fiction (whether novels or short stories) and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. In fact, this is one of the major reasons why I have made it one of my personal favorites to win. In 23 of the last 33 years, the eventual Pulitzer winner was first nominated for the NBCC. That is one heck of a track record! 

This novel was one of the most beautifully written books that I read last year. At the same time, it has been rightly faulted for having very little plot. (This happened a lot during the Tournament of Books final, when it lost to The Sisters Brothers.) In much of the novel, the narrator simply takes walks through Manhattan. I can understand why many readers found it boring. And yet there is a lot under the surface. In the end, the story had me reflecting and thinking back on it more than many other books I read last year. That is certainly is a point in its favor. A strike against it: it is set in New York City. As I mentioned in my “long shots” post in reference to Ten Thousand Saints, although “diversity” of settings (or themes) between winners of back-to-back years really shouldn’t really be a consideration, I still think the Pulitzer Board could take it into account. And yet, all thing being equal, this novel has an excellent shot of winning.

Favorite #2: The Angel Esmeralda: Nine Stories by Don DeLillo

Spanning 32 years this is a beautiful collection, especially the last five stories. Not many short story collections have won the Pulitzer. Last year’s winner, A Visit from the Goon Squad and 2009’s winner Olive Kitteridge are truly “novels in stories,” and thus not “collections.” Even Jhumpa Lahiri’s Interpreter of Maladies, which won in 2000, is different from this book because the stories in that collection were written over a shorter period of time, and some were new to the collection. (In DeLillo’s case, all of the stories were previously published in magazines or literary magazines.) In this sense, The Angel Esmeralda could be called “collected” stories, but that is splitting hairs. Regardless, books of “collected” stories have won (or been named finalists) before.

The only criteria given for the awarding of the Pulitzer Prize is “distinguished fiction by an American author, preferably dealing with American life.” Because the criteria does not say anything like the “best work of fiction from the previous year,” some people who post to a Pulitzer message board that I follow speculate that the prize could be awarded as a “lifetime achievement award.” According to one poster, this has been done before, although not recently; the two examples he highlighted were The Collected Stories of Katherine Anne Porter from 1966 and The Stories of John Cheever from 1979. (Note: I do not know anything about these collections.) In the opinion of many people, at age 75, DeLillo is one of the best writers of his generation. (I have to admit that this was my first exposure to his work, so I can’t comment on it, but I figure any author who has won two National Book Awards, and been a finalist two other times, must be good.) Although this collection is probably not as good as other Pulitzer winners which I’ve read, considering other circumstances, it is without a doubt good enough for me to mark it as a “favorite” to win.

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