Monday, November 30, 2009

A Pulitzer Prize Novel

Our Book Club is reading The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay for December. It’s a lengthy book that won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 2001. I’m struggling to read it because it moves so slowly. In the first one hundred pages the reader learns only a few things about the two main characters, and most of it comes through backstory. I’m guessing that maybe three-fourths of that first hundred pages is backstory. It bothers me to be taken away from the active part of the story and thrust back into time to learn things that could be woven into the story itself.

One of the writing tips I’ve come across over and over is to limit backstory—even better if you don’t use it at all. Another is to leave the reader wanting to turn the page when the chapter ends. I haven’t felt that way at all while reading this book. So it seems that the author has broken some of the rules of good writing, but he still managed to win the Pulitzer Prize.

I did a little research to see what qualifications a book should have to be a winner. One thing that surprised me is that the only books considered are those entered into competition with the required $50 fee. Risking $50 might be well worth it if an author ends up winning the certificate and $10,000 prize. Secondly, the Pulitzer Prize goes to a work of distinguished fiction that shows the American way of life.

So, someone entered The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay and the committee felt it fit all their criteria. That doesn’t make it a page-turning, fascinating novel. The book became a best-seller, but with only one hundred pages of it read, I can’t recommend it to anyone. Maybe I’ll feel differently once I plow through the remaining 500+ pages.

The story is about two adolescent Jewish boys who come up with a new comic book character and storyline in 1939, New York City. The book moves through the war years and after, so it is a good look at a different time and a history of the comic book era. The premise here is fine, but it seems to me that the author might have easily told the same story in half the number of words he used.

One thing is for certain, all Pulitzer Prize winners do not end up on the “My Favorite Books” list for me and for a lot of other people, as well. It’s why we need so many books as each one appeals to someone, just not all.

1 comment:

  1. This book won the Pulitzer and you don't know why, which just goes to show that opinions differ, as do the panel of judges from year to year. I learned this when the editor of our newspaper sat on the panel judging newspapers a few years ago. Did you know you can nominate your own work for a Pulitzer??? Even if it doesn't stand a chance, you can add to its credits that it was a Pulitzer-nominee. That's worth $50, and likely nobody would ever know but you.