The Pulitzer Prizes will be announced on Monday, April 15 so I will give my prediction this evening. Of course, the category that I am interested in is Fiction.
My prediction may not be correct as it will be based more on the original intent of Joseph Pulitzer.
Here is the original stipulation from his will:
Annually, for the American novel published during the year which shall best present the whole atmosphere of American life, and the highest standard of American manners and manhood, One thousand dollars ($1,000).
Here is the current stipulation from the Pulitzer website:
For distinguished fiction by an American author, preferably dealing with American life, Ten thousand dollars ($10,000).
To me the prize comes down to three things; American author, American life and that it is a novel.
Usually all the material in short story collections have been written over a period of time and have been previously published. I believe that the Pulitzer should be given only for work published in the previous year.
Each year PPrize.com issues a list of books on their prediction page. It does change over time as book awards are announced and the rankings are updated. However, I try to read most of the ones listed to see if I can read the winner before it is announced.
A note on the covers. All of these were checked out from the library. I scanned the cover and then blanked the bar code labels.
Here are some of my thoughts.
The Largesse of the Sea Maiden is a collection of short stories by Denis Johnson. The book is a posthumous collection of stories. Denis Johnson had been a previous Pulitzer finalist in 2012 for his book Train Dreams.
Beautiful Days by Joyce Carol Oates is another collection of short stories. Some of the stories were previous published and one of them was a Pushcart Prize winner in 2017. However, the stories were not well connected and again do not meet my criteria for an American Novel.
Hazards of Time Travel is also by Joyce Carol Oates. This was an interesting dystopian novel. To me, this book seems to have been written some time ago and then updated before it was published last year to fit our current political atmosphere. It is a bit hard to explain my reasoning on this, so I will refrain. However, one thing that really bothered me about this novel was that it had a few major continuity issues. The story had a good premise, but the continuity issues ruined it for me.
Asymmetry by Lisa Halliday is essentially two separate stories that are then connected in a third section. One is definitely about American Life and the other not so much. Interesting, but definitely not my favorite from the list.
Clock Dance by Anne Tyler was an interesting story about extended families and how sometimes family responsibility persists beyond failed marriages or relationships. I really enjoyed this book as it showed how caring people can be to others even with tenuous connections.
An American Marriage by Tayari Jones tells the story of a couple that is torn apart by a false accusation of rape. The husband is sent to jail and the challenges begin. Loyalty, friendship, family responsibility and many other themes are explored in this great American novel. This would be a good pick for the Pulitzer.
The Mars Room by Rachel Kushner is mostly set in a California prison. The book explores life in prison and also what life was like outside of prison for some of the characters. An interesting look at life behind bars.
The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai is set in Chicago in the 1980’s and Paris 30 years later. The book has two main story lines. One is about the AIDS epidemic of the 1980’s and the other is about a collection of art that is being donated to an art museum. I really enjoyed the story about the art. You could even say that this book has a third time setting in Paris in the 1930’s and 40’s when the art was produced. I believe that if this book concentrated on only one of the main story lines that it would have been a much better book. In fact, it could have been two great books. However, the story lines in the end are not tied together well and I was left with many questions as to why they were presented together.
The Friend by Sigrid Nunez is about a woman and a dog. The dog was left to her by a mentor when he passed away and the two grieve the loss together. Their life is complicated by the fact that where she lives dogs are prohibited. The dog is also a very large Great Dane which complicates things even further. An interesting story that I really enjoyed.
Red Clocks by Leni Zumas is another dystopian novel. The story explores the life of five women who are in different stages of life. The book explores motherhood, reproductive rights and other issues that the women are facing. This book is not listed on pprize.com in their prediction, but I think that it may be a dark horse for the award.
There There by Tommy Orange is another novel that is set in California. This book looks at several generations of Native Americans who come together at a powwow in Oakland. The book explores racial identity, family and tradition. There are some interesting story lines including how some of the characters discover their relationship to each other. This book is an interesting look at American life, and one that would be a worthy Pulitzer.
The House of Broken Angels by Luis Alberto Urrea is also set in California. The book is set at the end of the life of Big Angel the ailing patriarch of an immigrant family from Mexico. The story looks at the history of the extended family and how they have all come together to celebrate the final birthday of Big Angel. The many hardships that the family has endured during their lives are explored in this novel about American life. Another worthy Pulitzer if it wins the prize.
Now for my predictions. Here are my two favorites
The Overstory by Richard Powers is a very complex novel that follows different people who come together in different ways in their stand for the preservation of forests. Each of the story lines is somehow related to trees and some of the stories encompass generations of the same family. The story is well written and is set in a large range of locations across the country. The story lines are all well connected and the novel has great continuity and character development. The book is also a great look at the history of environmental activism as well as several other topics.
Don’t Skip Out on Me by Willy Vlautin is my choice for the Pulitzer. This book has great character development and tells a wonderful story. The main character is a young man named Horace who is half Native American. The story is set in Nevada and Arizona. Horace had a hard upbringing, but had been taken in by a rancher who treated him like a son. Horace however wanted to be a professional boxer and left the ranch to pursue his dream. The story chronicles his pursuit to become a boxer and the challenges he faced. One of his challenges was that he wanted to be identified as a Mexican boxer even though he did not know any Spanish. The rancher supports him in his pursuit, but also encourages him to return to the ranch where he is needed and would have a more stable life.
The book is a great look at the pursuit of dreams and also racial and family identity. There are great lessons in this book as to how much we sacrifice to pursue our dreams and how that pursuit can affect others who are close to us.
It will be interesting to find out who the winner is and which books are named as finalists.
The Pulitzer selection process is interesting as a three member jury selects three books to submit to the members of the Pulitzer committee. The makeup of the jury is not made public until the announcement of the awards, so it is difficult to predict the Pulitzer.
My hope is that unlike recent years, that the jury will provide three strong choices to the committee. Let the committee make the choice between three worthy recipients of the prize.
Update: The jury did provide three worthy recipients. The Overstory by Richard Powers was the winner and one of my two favorites. The other two finalists I had also read, which is unusual as they usually pick two lesser known works. There There by Tommy Orange and The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai were the other two finalists. See my reviews above.