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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