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Who will win the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction? One website has created an algorithm designed to predict who will win and successfully predicted Jennifer Egan’s win in 2011 for her book, A Visit From the Goon Squad. In the weeks leading up to the award’s announcement (April 15), Toonari Post will be reviewing several of the more discussed books from last year and try to see which book, above all others, deserves the award.
In 2009, the winner, Tinkers by Paul Harding, was nowhere to be found on the list on pprize.com. It had received no nominations for other major prizes, and shown up on only a few “best-of” lists.
Today, Toonari Post will be examining dark horse candidates. What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank by Nathan Englander made a splash when it was published, but since then its chances of winning the prize have diminished dramatically. Kind One by Laird Hunt is the opposite: until its nomination for the Pen/Faulkner Award, few had heard of it.
Englander’s book, a collection of short stories, focuses on Jewish life—life as an assimilated American, life as an unassimilated American, life in Israel. As you might expect, religion is present in all of them. Despite this, the stories are all quite different. One focuses on a band of kids trying to get revenge on the local anti-Semite, another on an aging writer and his waning fanbase. The title story is about a wife seeing an old friend from Hebrew school who has since moved to Israel. It is similar, both in its language and in its characters, to the short story that provided the inspiration for its title, Raymond Carver’s famous “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.”
The prose is at times unrefined (“She and Mark ran off to Israel twenty years ago and turned Hassidic, and neither of them will put a hand on the other in public. Not for this. Not to put out a fire”) but full of character; its unrefined nature is the point.
The short story collection would be a worthy winner of the award. If Englander does not win for this book, be on the lookout for future work by him. He is a writer worth keeping an eye on.
Laird Hunt’s Kind One is an interesting, Faulknerian work that will definitely confuse more than a few readers. It is an antebellum, southern gothic tale, told through multiple perspectives. The largest of these sections is from the eyes of Ginny, a girl married off to a lying widower.
At times, characters seem to act not how they would naturally be expected to, but rather how the author needs them to act in order to move the story along. The multiple perspectives also seem overdone towards the end, where characters the reader thus far has never heard from suddenly get to voice their opinions for five pages and are then silenced. After hearing from one voice for a hundred pages, five pages seem a bit superfluous. A bit more editing and playing around with the story could have resulted in a tighter book. Although without a doubt Kind One deserves its nomination for the Pen/Faulkner Award, winning the Pulitzer seems a bit of a stretch for this book.
Stay tuned at Toonari Post for more Pulitzer Prize news and predictions in the days leading up to April 15.
Image credit: Howard County Library System via Flickr.com