Like all readers, I've been in a daze over the lack of a Pulitzer Prize for fiction this year. Was there nothing good enough?
Here's my conspiracy theory.
Train Dreams, by Denis Johnson = novella published in print from ten years ago.
The Pale King, by David Foster Wallace = unfinished novel.
Swamplandia, by Karen Russell = mixed reviews, but folks who love it, really love it.
So we're told that the nominations went to the committee and they couldn't come to consensus. But what if the problem were with the nominations? What if the committee (all respectable folks whom I admire greatly) thought, "let's put up two nominees that probably can't win, as one was already in print and the other was unfinished, so that we make sure that Swamplandia claims the trophy."
But to counter that argument, I list these three experts who each pick a different winner. Most folks in the know would say this was a real horse race.
Alexander Nazaryan at The Daily News claims that David Foster Wallace should have won the prize for The Pale King. His thoughts that a Karen Russell reader would take more guidance from a blog than the Pulitzer board seems particularly over the top. Do you really think nobody over 30 can read Swamplandia?
Laurie Muchnik at Bloomberg Business Week thinks that of the finalists, the prize should have gone to Swamplandia. And then mentions Open City, The Art of Fielding, State of Wonder, Binocular Vision, and The Marriage Plot, all books that have come up several times in discussion. And hey, The Tiger's Wife won the Orange Prize and was also on many best-of lists. And what about Salvage the Bones, which won the National Book Award. Wouldn't that have done?
Anne Patchett of course sums up what many of us are thinking in her New York Times editorial. It's probably due to some sort of deadlock, but to the wider world, it says that all the fiction that came out last year, well, sucked. She says that of the three, she would have picked Denis Johnson's Train Dreams.
Here are some alternatives for the jury.
1. Somebody in charge says, "Pick a winner, or else."
2. Call it a hung jury and start over.
3. Make it a tie. I hate 'em but it's certainly happened in the world of prizes.
Of course the interesting after-effect is something that has never happened before. All the nominees are selling. Because the Pulitzer is the one major prize that doesn't announce the runners up until after the prize, there's usually little pop in sales for the finalists.
Case in point, last year Jennifer Egan won the fiction prize for A Visit from the Goon Squad. The two other finalists were The Privileges, by Jonathan Dee and The Surrendered, by Chang-Rae Lee. I don't recall either one hitting paperback bestseller lists. I bet in this year, all three will. So maybe I've uncovered the real conspiracy--an attempt by 21 people to help three books rise to a higher level of success instead of just one.