April 15, 2013
7 books that should win the Pulitzer for fiction this year
by Dustin Kurtz
The Pulitzer Prizes will be announced today, and after last year’s absurd refusal to award the prize for fiction, the engine of anticipation is running hot. With that in mind, I’ve picked seven books that should, in a just world, win the prize this year.
The Pulitzer for fiction is an eminently silly prize. It is awarded “for distinguished fiction by an American author, preferably dealing with American life.” That’s right: American books by Americans. If we don’t hear screaming eagles and raining carpetbombs when we read your prose, it’s flat out. If the Pulitzer board could stipulate that every author change their name to Francis Scott Betty Ross Hamilton Jefferson Key on receipt of the award, I believe they would. Which makes it all the more unbelievable that last year’s finalists—books about trains, the IRS, and hokey showmanship—somehow didn’t deserve the prize.
The problem is, in spite of its eminent absurdity, the Pulitzer for fiction, and to a lesser extent those for nonfiction (sorry poetry, not you) means big money for booksellers and publishers. When no fiction winner was chosen last year stores could make do with the three excellent finalists, and were likely still doing well with A Visit from the Goon Squad, the previous year’s winner, but sales from a Pulitzer winning novel can be the tentpole for an entire season. It’s certainly the case for smaller bookstores, if not the national chains.
So while the prize is ridiculous, it remains, for the time being, useful, and problematic if not awarded. Lest the Pulitzer Board run into the same impass as last year, let me proffer these, the most American books of the last year.
A masterful novel, in which a grandiose and confused narrator’s desperate and botched re-imagining of the fall of an American icon mirrors his—and the nation’s—slide into a blustering irrelevance. The book is subtle and powerful by turns. I also like the disturbing and complex symbolism of those two tiny ghosts on JFK’s shoulder on the cover of the book. A sure thing.
A charming retelling of the classic American parable: girl studies under deranged sexist criminal mastermind, girl wins obscenely well-paying job, girl writes book advocating further subservience to a permanent working life in the guise of gender equality. The author’s real success is in giving a new spin to that same oft-told story. The sheer cartoonish amorality of every character involved makes the book that much more satisfying.
Bloated, unasked-for, so tired it barely has the energy to feign enthusiasm for the technicolor nostalgia that drives it, Tom Wolfe’s latest was easily one of the most American books of the past year. Also it has “Blood” right there in the title, which has to count for something right?
Ah, what the hell. Just give her this prize, too. Why not? They’re pretty good books.
You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll learn how to bomb weddings by remote control from a windowless room in Virginia. Certainly one of the most American books published this year.
This guy named George Sanders teaches sociology out in Oakland. Can we give him the Pulitzer, just to mess with the rabid George Saunders fans? I bet he has a book we can use, right? Imagine the rioting in MFA programs across the nation, torches and pitchforks held aloft by limpid, well-crafted arms.
Ah, screw it. Why mess around? If what the board is looking for is something about “American life,” just give the Pulitzer to this five year old book of flag photos and call it a day. The rest of us will just get on with the business of reading books that deal with, you know, life.
Dustin Kurtz is former marketing manager of Melville House.