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The 15-Minute Pulitzer: Variety leads to revelation?

by Craig B | Jan 08, 2018

Book Review: James Alan McPherson's winner of the 1978 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, Elbow Room

Elbow RoomJames Alan McPherson contributed significantly to make his family a family of firsts.  His father was the first black master electrician in Georgia and James became the first African American winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.  In 1978 he was awarded the prize (no, not for his first) for his last collection of short stories, Elbow Room.  Generally more of a non-fiction writer, McPherson also had a variety of powerful, if almost always bemusing, short stories to tell.

Bemusing is not typically a compliment, but don’t get me wrong, I have no complaints.  At the beginning, the stories like "Why I Like Country Music" were so straightforward I wasn’t sure why I should care.  However, I kept reading (‘cause I’ve got to, I’ve got to read all of the Pulitzers) and McPherson slowly but surely began to mix it up so that by the time I got to “A Loaf of Bread;” that story about the mechanic, “A Sense of Story;” and the title story, “Elbow Room,” I was beginning to rethink some of my first impressions.  It’s kind of like if you put together a greatest hits album for The White Stripes and started with "We’re Going to be Friends,” “Apple Blossom,” and “Little Ghost,” you might get the wrong idea about the band and those three songs together if you stopped there. Once you’ve managed to explore “Cannon,” “Ball and Biscuit,” and “The Big Three Killed My Baby” you might understand everything you’ve heard in a slightly different way.  Or not.  Maybe that’s a terrible analogue.  Either way, never stop reading.  You know I won’t … at least until I get to that 2017 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction winner.  At that 101st book (or thereabouts anyway), I may consider transitioning to the Nobels, not because, to quote The White Stripes, “my stick shift hands are swollen” or that “everything involved is shady,” more because, to quote a more ancient source, “variety is the spice of life,” or something like “variety leads to revelation … maybe.”  Persevering through the wide variety of the stories in Elbow Room seems to have worked out that way for me, anyway.  Who can tell what your various experiences might yield?

Craig B author Craig B is a thirty-something lover of books, movies, and rock and roll whose grandmother still worries that he might not be eating enough. (Love you, Grandma!) He lives with his charming wife in the small town of Berne, IN (in sight of the clock tower) where he busies himself keeping the Roses of Sharon in check and training his chinchilla in the ancient arts of the Ninja. Craig’s current favorite book is Buddenbrooks by Thomas Mann.

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