25 Years of Pulitzer Winners and Me

In a rare turn of events, no Pulitzer for fiction was awarded this year.  That got me to thinking about my own history with that award.  Here are my notes on the last quarter century of Pulitzer winners.

  1. 2011 A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan.     Sounds interesting, but I’m not really that excited by it.  Probably won’t read it.
  2. 2010 Tinkers by Paul Harding.     Read it.  Really enjoyed it.  Gave it an 8/10.  Review here.
  3. 2009 Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout.     Read it.  Moderately enjoyed it.  Gave it a 7/10.  Review here.
  4. 2008 The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz.     Not familiar with it.  The title alone is enticing, but is it enough so that I’ll look into it?  Honestly, if it’s not already on the priority list, chances are it won’t claw its way in anytime soon.
  5. 2007 The Road by Cormac McCarthy.     Read it.  Loved it.  Gave it a 10/10.  No review necessary–what could I possibly add?
  6. Continue reading
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Book Review: Tinkers, by Paul Harding

I was lucky enough to see the first headlines during my lunch break at work about this little novel winning the Pulitzer Prize last month.  It was lucky as I was then able to reserve a copy at the library right away, before anybody else put it on hold.  I was excited to be first in line, especially when I saw the Las Vegas Clark County Library District only has six copies of it!  (Last year’s winner, Oliver Kitteridge, has 18 copies available.)  Surely more would soon be on the way.  Checking back just now, however, shows that not to be the case.  Apparently, six of this one will do.

And so it might, as only 24 people have it on hold.  After more than two weeks?  For a Pulitzer winner?  800 people had Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol on hold last year.  Much has been made of Tinkers being from a small press.  Perhaps this is a good illustration of that obscurity. 

That was the first reason why I was excited about reading it–the news release noted that the last time a small press novel had won was with 1981’s A Confederacy of Dunces, which I loved.  Where that was a sprawling, bawdy, comic satire, however, Tinkers is a sparse, dense, somber analysis of the effect of death on the living and dying. 

Tinkers is what The Year of Magical Thinking would have looked like, had it been written by Cormac McCarthy. 

Paul Harding’s story here is not itself terribly special: he uses one man’s imminent death to catalyze a series of generational fugues, revealing perceived memories of fathers, sons, and grandfathers across a century and more.  Continue reading

Book Review: Olive Kitteridge

38480424When Olive Kitteridge won the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction a few weeks ago, a colleague reminded me that some of her AP students had recently gotten to have a luncheon with author Elizabeth Strout and talk to her about her book.  I’m told that the students’ primary question was why her book was so depressing, and that Strout retorted that her book wasn’t depressing, but realistic. 

With that personal connection in mind, I read Olive Kitteridge.  Strout is right: the book isn’t depressing.  But it is plain, ordinary, and underwhelming.

Olive Kitteridge’s closest kin in the American literature canon is Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio; each is a collection of related short stories, which taken together form a mosaic of a town and offer several perspectives on a principal protagonist, in Anderson’s case, Joe Welling, in Strout’s, the eponymous Olive Kitteridge.  In that sense, the novel also bears a resemblance to another, more recent work with this same conceit, David Shickler’s excellent (and superior) Kissing in Manhattan

Anthologies of short stories typically don’t sell well, and most authors avoid them.  The copyright page for Olive Kitteridge shows that many of its chapters were published alone over more than a decade.  This feeling of discontinuity–or rather, a forced continuity–is apparent throughout.  The chapters where Olive isn’t the main character yet she pops up anyway, sometimes only in a throwaway reference, stick out as desperate attempts to make the conceit work.  One wonders if older versions of these stories were lightly revised to include Olive’s name just so this could be published as a novel as opposed to the collection of short stories that it is. 

As it is, Olive Kitteridge isn’t bad, but blandContinue reading