Below is a verbatim e-mail exchange among my friends J and K and myself regarding the Pultizer Fiction Committee not awarding a prize this year. Don't expect a profound discussion or conclusion. Actually, if you can explain to me why I posted this, please do so. Oh, and as a reminder, nominee David Foster Wallace committed suicide in 2008.
[From the New York Times]
FICTION: No award.
Finalists: “Train Dreams,” by Denis Johnson (Farrar, Straus and Giroux); “Swamplandia!” by Karen Russell (Alfred A. Knopf); “The Pale King,” by David Foster Wallace (Little, Brown and Company).
J: Good grief. They could only find three novels to nominate and none to give the award to?
Stim: What's the point of killing yourself if you can't score a major posthumous award? Or considering the book was published three years after he offed himself, what's the point of writing from beyond the grave if the living aren't in awe?
J: Indeed. And what's the point of nominating a dead guy (or anyone) if you don't think they're worthy of the award, as they obviously thought none of the three was. I think there are usually five finalists. I can't believe it was that bad a year for fiction.
Stim: The best (or worst) fiction was being written for campaign speeches.
J: Yeah, very short, and scary, stories.
K: You know the whole inability to choose is because one guy on the committee had some bug up his ass. Did they really have to torment Wallace's family?
J: There have been several times they didn't give a fiction award, and I remember a prof telling me once, decades ago, that (it would have been '71, '74, or '77; they gave no award in those years; and they don't list the finalists before 1980 on the website) the fiction committee voted to award the Pulitzer to Gravity's Rainbow, but they were overruled by the board of directors at Columbia U because they didn't understand the book. So no award was given that year.
The last time they gave no fiction award was '77.
(They gave no award for editorial writing this year either.)
With all the politics and BS in their histories, between the Pulitzer and the National Book Award, we really don't have a decent, legitimate book award. And that's sad.
We'll probably find out in twenty years what really happened this year.
I love that on the website in describing the finalists, it says of The Pale King, "a posthumously completely novel." Now that is a good trick.
Torment Wallace's family. No, they shouldn't have. Not to mention the many good writers actually alive who published novels last year.
It's not like there weren't other big names out there with a book last year: Eugenides 'Marriage Plot", they could have gone brave and nominated John Sayles "A Moment in the Sun", or really brave with something contemporary like the well-reviewed "The Submission" by Amy Waldman (about a contest to design the 9/11 memorial and the resulting tumult when the winner, picked blindly, turns out to be a Muslim).
It's like they were all too busy tweeting this year to spend any time reading fiction.
Stim: "but they were overruled by the board of directors at Columbia U because they didn't understand the book" -- that's why you have a goddamn fiction committee you self-important, stuck up assholes.
I mean, I read Gravity's Rainbow--15 years ago or so-- and don't claim to understand it all, but when it came to the last hundred or so pages, out of 800, I stayed up up till about 3:00 one night finishing the book because I felt literally unable to put it down or stop reading. By the end I was shaking and the whole universe was shimmering around me. I've never done LSD, and I can't imagine a trip being wilder or more hallucinatory than I felt finishing that book.
It did win the National Book Award. They evidently didn't have a university board to overrule them.