For the first time since 1977, the Pulitzer committee elected to honor no work of fiction.

The three nominated finalists were:

  • Train Dreams, by Denis Johnson (my review here)
  • Swamplandia!, by Karen Russell (my review here)
  • The Pale King, by David Foster Wallace
Each has its problems.
Train Dreams is a novella first published in The Paris Review in 2002. It won the O’Henry award for short stories in 2003. So, though I liked it a lot, I can see why it didn’t win — though why was it eligible in the first place? In the end, it just must not have been declared good enough.
The Pale King is the unfinished novel David Foster Wallace was working on when he committed suicide in 2008. The Pulitzer can and has been awarded posthumously, but it is understandable why it wasn’t awarded to an unfinished book an editor put together — as the Pulitzer website puts it, this book was “posthumously completed.” Again, if it was eligible in the first place, it must have just been not good enough.
Swamplandia!, in my opinion, just wasn’t very good. So I’m with the committee on that one.
It will be interesting to see how this hits the world of publishing. Afterall, it’s one thing to be a finalist when another book has won. But if no book wins . . .
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By |2016-07-13T18:27:21+00:00April 16th, 2012|Categories: News|5 Comments


  1. KevinfromCanada April 16, 2012 at 3:53 pm

    While I am sure there will be much speculation, I’ll add my own idle contribution to the mix in advance.

    My hypothesis would be that the jury found itself irrevocably split with members committed to one book and absolutely refusing to accept another as the winner. Frankly, I could see all three of the finalists provoking this kind of extreme of opinion — Wallace for sure (an author you love or hate) and the other two both have passionate advocates and equally passionate detractors.

    I found the finalist list a bit strange when it was announced, precisely because the three had produced this kind of divisive opinion already. Of the three, only Swamplandia made the Tournament of Books 16-book longlist and it was eliminated on the second round (by The Sisters Brothers, which wasn’t eligible for the Pulitzer because deWitt is Canadian).

    There’s another far-out hypothesis for you. Maybe the jury agreed that The Sisters Brothers (or The Sense of an Ending) was so good that they shouldn’t put up an inadequate alternative. I’d certainly take either over any of their three finalists. Alright — this hypothesis is crazy, I admit it.

    Let the speculation continue.

  2. Shelley April 17, 2012 at 12:14 pm

    All Kevin’s ideas make sense.

    But maybe they just didn’t think anything was good enough.

  3. Liz from Literary Masters April 17, 2012 at 12:55 pm

    I can’t decide which is worse–to be a finalist in a contest that produces no winner, or not to be considered at all. Which book (of all the books you’ve read this year) would you have awarded the prize to, if it were up to you? Or would you, too, have opted not to award a prize?

  4. Tony S. April 17, 2012 at 4:41 pm

    I would have preferred the award had gone to Swamplandia. Swamplandia and the Rules of Civility were the best United States novels I read in 2011. I’ve read Train Dreams, but considered it weak compared to other Denis Johnson works.

  5. Lee Monks April 18, 2012 at 10:02 am

    This is interesting. I applaud, to an extent, a panel that won’t simply dole out the gongs for the hell of it. I thought Swamplandia wasn’t up to a win (even though there is much to admire in it) and Train Dreams is surely too slight (in both senses) to be a serious contender (as supremely well-crafted as it is). But The Pale King is quite brilliant, and here’s a missed opportunity to posthumously bestow a fitting plaudit of recogntion upon a great writer. Outrage!

    Kevin, I think The Sisters Brothers’ reputation will grow as time passes.

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