Monday, March 29, 2010

Ruminating on the 2010 Pulitzers

The 2010 Pulitzer Prize winners will be announced in two weeks on April 12th, and it seems like that fact is stalking me. I'm reading a Pulitzer winner, I'm drafting a comprehensive list of fiction winners for the local library; even the local library's book club is doing a Pulitzer winner.

Last year when Olive Kitteridge was announced the 2009 recipient, I didn't know anything about the book or couldn't have even made any sort of prediction as to what might have won. Over the course of that year however, I read five new titles* and more importantly became more conscious of the titles being released, so I'm a little more prepared to weigh in this time around. Last year, I consulted for their list of likely winners. This is their prognostication, in order of likelihood:
1. My Fathers Tears by John Updike
2. Lark and Termite by Jayne Anne Philips
3. Homer and Langley by E.L. Doctorow
4. The Humbling by Philip Roth
5. Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann
6. The Maple Stories by John Updike
7. American Salvage by Bonnie Jo Campbell
8. Spooner by Pete Dexter
9. Generosity: An Enchantment by Richard Powers
10. In Other Rooms, Other Wonders by David Mueenuddin
11. The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver
12. A Good Fall by Ha Jin
13. The Red Convertible by Louise Erdrich
14. Chronic City by Jonathan Lethem
15. Dear Husband (or Little Bird of Heaven) by Joyce Carol Oates
So that's a lot of books, not all of which am I familiar with and only one of which I've actually read. Based on reviews, I'd argue that Roth and Doctorow are both easily discounted, despite their high positions on the list; Both books were at one point priorities for me, but with mediocre reception, they've been relegated to sometime in the future.

John Updike, though his final collection My Father's Tears got very good reviews, is likely featured so prominently on the list due to his passing at the beginning of 2009. True he had passed by the time of the 2009 nominations, but the Widows of Eastwick was poorly received and would have been discrediting. I wouldn't expect Updike to win this year either. Updike has won twice in the past, and so there's no sense of career validation (though I don't feel that's a concern with the Pulitzers anyway) and additionally, there has never been a Pulitzer winning short story collection that hasn't begun with "The collected stories of" or "The stories of."

I also wouldn't bet on Oates. Her prolifacy is a bit of a detriment to her, and more over if her most successful novels such as them or Blonde were passed over, I don't think this is the year to expect a change. I do think Jonathan Lethem has a strong chance of winning. Chronic City has a strong literary progeny, has been frequently cited as one of the best books of the year, and has had -- at least for myself -- a near ubiquitous presence creating the urge for me to read it.

Call it a kind of vanity, or naivete, but I genuinely believe that the one book on this list I did read, Colum McCann's Let the Great World Spin, has an especially good chance of taking the award. The Pulitzer is an American award, given to American authors, yes, but also with preference given to books dealing with American life. Let the Great World Spin is a book about how lives converge in the face of massive events; a novel about New York in the 1970s, but also unmistakably tied to New York in the wake of 9/11. Not only did Let the Great World Spin win the National Book Award (which isn't a great signifier, actually. Only five works of fiction have taken both in the National Book Award's 60 year history), but I think it also, at least of what I know the books above, meets the criterion best.

However, that leaves a number of books I'm familiar with on levels ranging from having thought about buying it, book in hand to complete ignorance of both author and title. Anyway. That's my predictions for what they're worth.

*Lowboy by John Wray - Nobody Move by Denis Johnson - Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann - Admission by Jean Hanff Korelitz - This is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper

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