There were three books that came in neck and neck (maybe “spine and spine” is a better phrase) for the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction
of 1971. Ultimately, since the Fiction Jury had noted that it was “not likely that (they) would be able to decide on a single, unanimous, persuasive choice” out of the three recommended titles, the Pulitzer Board decided to not award a Fiction prize at all, thus mandating that Craig read all three “recommended titles” so he could have his own pet opinions and share them with you. (sigh) Recommendation #1: Losing Battles
Even if I don’t take major issue with Eudora Welty’s final book and near Pulitzer-win, I don’t not take issue with its never-ending dialogic wanderings, and I definitely take issue with the dude on the Pulitzer Jury for Fiction that called this book “genre fiction.” What genre? I mean a work of 436 pages with this little of plot (almost nothing happens for 400 pages) can hardly be called “genre” fiction. Stuff happens in genre fiction. Like birth, death, divorce, circle of life sort of stuff. Stuff that engages the emotions, even in a horrifically maudlin way, and makes us care. Reading this book I just was never sure why I should care … I could care, but so much was made of so little … My efforts to care were truly a losing battle. Aha!
Recommendation #2: Mr. Sammler’s Planet Recommendation #3: The Wheel of Love
Saul Bellow’s book was in many ways above me (I just don’t know that much Latin), however, I didn’t really feel “condescended to” as a member of the Pulitzer Jury put it, and it did not “alienate” me. That said, I can sometimes be a glutton for literary punishment and the book does actually read a bit more like a series of essays than a traditional novel. Maybe it’s an attempt at a “high-brow masterpiece” (Bellow’s phrase) or maybe it’s just pretentious. Either way, it has my vote. I rather liked it. It might be even better if it were a little longer. For some reason I wanted just a bit more. But, oh my, what did I just say! Longer?! As in more pages?! Sacrilege!
All right Mr. Fiction Jury Man. Someone was clearly in love with Joyce Carol Oates … and her collection of short stories. “Plumbs ordinariness” is the phrase you fastened on? (Is that some sort of “could you ever love an ordinary guy like me” schtick?) Come on! These are not ordinary people, these Oatesian characters! I mean, how many East coast professors are featured in these stories? There’s upper-middle class money everywhere! Seriously, Little Women is about ordinary people (sort of). To Kill a Mockingbird is about ordinary people. The Stand is about ordinary people (mostly). That said, I did quite like Oates’ book. And I have to give Oates (and Mr. Fiction Jury Man) this -- the emotions felt and described in The Wheel of Love are ordinary. They cover much of the same territory as pop songs, high school poems, and the insidious Hollywood effect. By this I mean every story is a love story of sorts, which is encouraging. Even unordinary people experience ordinary emotions, love, romance, etc.; even when that “ordinary” love is sick, middle-aged, and violent. Which doesn’t give anyone a lot of hope for how that Mr.-Fiction-Jury-Man/Joyce-Carol-Oates romance turned out. (zing!?)
So, there’s my two cents on the three books considered but ultimately not chosen for the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1971. And listen, I know I’m “taking issue” and “condescending” to the Pulitzer Jury, some sort of super-people race of the literary world (again, “ordinary?” pshaw), but most of us on this “ordinary” planet find ourselves at some sort of odds with the clinical expertise of the experts and I suppose we must preserve our opinions even if it’s a “losing battle” as we go round the “wheel” of this world trying to figure out what it really means to “love.”
Another self-serving sentence like that one and I’m going to put myself to sleep. (yawn)