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April 16 has arrived, and with it comes the announcement of the winner of the Pulitzer Prize. Another website has put up their own list of predictions, and the Toonari Post is reviewing seven works likely to win their author the award.
The fiction award, known as the novel, has always been a favorite form of writing when it comes to the Pulitzer. Toonari Post has had the opportunity to read and review three novels likely to win the award: The Tiger’s Wife by Tea Obreht, Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward, and Swamplandia! Karen Russell.
First up is The Tiger’s Wife, winner of the Orange prize for fiction. The book is Obreht’s first novel, but it is so intricate and well developed that it does not read like one. The plot concerns two doctors in an unnamed Yugoslavian country giving orphans medical treatment.
One of the doctors recently had her grandfather pass away, and about two-thirds of the book are dedicated to retelling stories he had told her as a little girl, the stories of the deathless man and the tiger’s wife. The remaining third deals with the doctor giving out medicine to orphans and coming to terms with her grandfather’s death.
Magical realism, a term defining moments where extraordinary events, like a man waking up to find he has been transformed into a cockroach, is told in an everyday manner and the bizarre and the banal coexist naturally, playing a big part in the story (for example, the deathless man is literally deathless and the tiger’s wife is literally a tiger’s wife,) while readers of Salman Rushdie and Gabriel Garcia Marquez will feel right at home here.
The main problem with the book is that the two-thirds telling the grandfather’s stories are so detailed and make you want to read more and more, that the rest drags in comparison. It is not that it is paced badly or that the prose does not stand up here, just that this section is not as interesting as the rest.
Overall, Obreht has a good shot at the Pulitzer. And, even if she does not win, she is definitely a writer to look out for.
Next up is Salvage the Bones, a novel that has already won its author, Jesmyn Ward, the National Book award. Set in Louisiana immediately before Hurricane Katrina hit, it tells the story of a poor black family and the trials they endure, seen through the eyes of their fifteen-year-old daughter.
Filled with references to Greek mythology, it is a deep book, but also one that is fun to read. Disaster after disaster keeps coming, from the daughter discovering she is pregnant to her older brother running into trouble training dogs to fight. But much like a train wreck, it is impossible to look away.
Ward’s prose is occasionally stellar, though it mostly comes off a bit awkward. For example, “China’s turned on herself. If I didn’t know know, I would think she was trying to eat her paws. I would think that she was crazy. Which she is, in a way.” Overall, the book is worth a read, but not a Pulitzer.
Swamplandia! is funny, engaging, and altogether weird, albeit in a good way. A family of alligator wrestlers get into financial trouble and struggle to get themselves out, as the father vanishes on a business trip, one of the two daughters becomes obsessed with the occult and the son runs away to make money on his own—all while the family copes with the matriarch’s death. These leave poor Ava, the other daughter, to fend for herself as she tries to raise the funds to keep her family’s park going.
This book is not for everyone. The prose is nothing special (“Kiwi sat like that, a toothpick speck in the whale’s smile, and pretended to read Plato’s Republic until his lunch hour was up,”) but it gets the job done and creates an intriguing atmosphere of drollness, much like films such as The Nightmare Before Christmas and Coraline. As for the book itself, it may be too quirky for some people, but those who have a sense for the absurd will love it. It may be too out there to win the Pulitzer Prize, but it is definitely worth checking out.
Stay tuned for the announcement of the nominations and the prize itself on April 16.
Image Courtesy of mabelsound