Do we dare award a prize?
And the prestigious Pulizter Prize for fiction goes to...
Apparently the board was divided on the titles recommended by the jurors. Rather than compromising, they chose not to choose, and instead released the titles of the three finalists:
- David Foster Wallace's posthumously published The Pale King, a story of a group of IRS employees "engaged in a silent war against the raging, soul-flattening boredom of their job" (LA Times Review of Books)
- Train Dreams by Denis Johnson, a novella set in 1920s Washington in which the protagonist returns from working on the railroad to find his house burned to ash and his family missing (from The New Yorker Review of Books)
It's been 35 years since the Pulitzer fiction committee came to an impasse like this (the last time was in 1977, when the board noted that none of the jurors' recommendations were 'prize-worthy'). The board declined to comment on any specifics of their decision (or lack thereof), leaving the jurors shocked and the publishing industry incensed.
The big question buzzing in all the media outlets was this: Does this indecision expose a fundamental flaw in the book-prize-awarding system, or is it an honest portrayal of the difficulty of choosing 'the best fiction work of the year' and a testament to the committee's unwillingness to settle? Readers and writers are divided, too.
One letter to the editor of the New York Times expressed happiness about the lack of a winner: "The prize only serves to heighten and concentrate a hierarchy built primarily on promotion and by doing so denigrates and further marginalizes books of great merit that could enrich many lives," she wrote.
Another writer sees possibilities: "What a fine and happy conclusion: the great American novel of the decade has yet to be written, and it could be by anyone."
In any case, we could look at this as a "There's no such thing as bad publicity" situation. The very fact that the prize controversy is receiving media attention could be good news for all three writers, says Paul Bogaards, a spokesman for publisher Alfred A. Knopf.
“In years past it’s the Pulitzer winner that captures all the attention and all the sales, but since this year there was not a winner and there’s much conversation about the finalists, this may be an opportunity and a catalyst for sales,” Bogaards told the New York times.
Well I don't agree with the board's snub—I think they should have at least explained their reasoning—I do agree with Bogaards; my first instinct was to read all three books and decide which one I would choose (I'm a big fan of DFW, though, so I already feel a bit biased). If I do get my hands on the finalists, I'll write a post about my pick. In the meantime, what do you think about the Pulitzer board's decision? Are all major awards corrupt, or do you trust the decisions made behind closed doors?