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Of all American literary awards, none come close to matching the Pulitzer Prize for weight and prestige. Winners can expect to receive an astronomical boost in sales, and, aside from William Faulkner, no American has won the Nobel Prize for Literature without first earning a Pulitzer.
This leads many to speculate who the winner will be each year. Notably, one website has created an algorithm to predict who will win, and it successfully predicted Jennifer Egan’s 2011 win for her book, A Visit From the Goon Squad. In the weeks leading up to the award’s announcement Toonari Post will be reviewing several of the more discussed books from last year, and to try to see which book, above all others, deserves the award.
A Hologram for a King by Dave Eggers has been one of the more controversial books this year. It received glowing reviews from critics, but a quick visit to Amazon or Goodreads shows that the public is not too keen on the work. The plot features Alan Clay, an apathetic, divorced businessman, traveling to Saudi Arabia with his company’s hologram technology in order to impress the king and convince him to purchase the equipment. If Clay is successful he will receive more than enough money to pay off his many encroaching debts, but with the king never showing up to meetings, the pressure is building. The plot has been compared to Samuel Beckett and Franz Kafka, but without a single hint at anything fantastic, it is much more grounded in reality than the works of those authors.
The book has a high rank on pprize.com’s list due to several appearances in ‘best-of’ lists and a nomination for the National Book Award, but it seems doubtful it will win the author the Pulitzer. An examination of a failing businessman in Saudi Arabia juxtaposed with American businesses failing to compete with Chinese companies is interesting enough, but in the end, the whole narrative is forgettable. None of the characters are particularly memorable or well fleshed-out. The plot ends on an uncertain note, and, given Clay’s unfortunate predicament, this does not make a satisfying conclusion. In a year with so many strong books, it is unlikely this will be the one that wins the prize.
Kevin Powers’ debut novel, The Yellow Birds, has garnered similar praise from critics, although the pubic has been much kinder to it. Focused on the Iraq war, it tells the story of Pvt. Bartle and his friend, Murph, through chapters that alternate between the war and its aftermath. It is also very clichéd, but in this case that is not necessarily a bad thing. What sets Powers’ novel apart from the others is its language. Powers is a poet first and a novelist second, and it shows here, hinting at the language of William Faulkner and Ernest Hemingway. Occasionally, the wording gets out of hand, but, other than a few instances, is still pleasant enough to read.
The characters, while likable, never really develop. For example, all we learn about Murph is that he has a caring mother and a girl back home. The big reveal at the end is also anticlimactic. The book is not without its faults, but it has a definite shot at the Pulitzer Prize.
Stay tuned at Toonari Post for more Pulitzer Prize news and predictions in the days leading up to April 15.
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