Saturday, March 4, 2017

More Pulitzer Prize Winning Books

I've made some progress on my goal to read all the Pulitzer Prize winners in fiction! Over the past couple of months, I completed four more books from the list of winners.

The Hours by Michael Cunningham (1999 winner) is a very well written book, but I did not enjoy it at all. It follows the story of 3 women: Virginia Woolf in London in 1923 as she is writing Mrs. Dalloway; Carissa, a lesbian in New York at the end of the 20th century, as she prepares for a party; and Laura, a housewife in Los Angeles in 1949. The stories are told in alternating chapters that are filled with psychological issues, gays, lesbians, AIDS, unhappiness, and suicide. Oh, and there's Richard, who turns up in two of the stories and kills himself in the end.

A Death in the Family by James Agee (1958 winner) was incomplete when the author died. There were sections of the story that he had written but not yet inserted into the manuscript. Rather than try to insert them where they made sense, the publisher put these random chapters at the end of Parts I and II of the novel, which was extremely disconcerting. For example, all of Part II of the novel takes place over a few hours at the house on the night of the accident, then there is the random insertion of a story about the family visiting a great-great-grandmother some time before the story began!

This novel is about a father who goes out of town to check on his own ill father and dies in a one-car accident on his way back home. The writing is very detailed, with lots (and lots!) of dialogue and long (very long!) passages of stream of consciousness from various characters - the father's 6-year-old son, his Catholic wife, his brother, etc. It was not a pleasant or easy-to-read book.

The Fixer by Bernard Malamud (1967 winner) is about a Jew, Yakov Bok, living in Russia in the early 20th century. He is a fixer of things who leaves his village to move to a larger town. He ends up living in a restricted section of town (Jews were not allowed) and is arrested for the murder of a young boy despite the evidence for his innocence.

The story is told from Yakov Bok's point of view and is set mostly during the three years he is in prison. He is a thinker, so in his mind he thinks through things over and over and eventually starts to go crazy and have hallucinations. However, he never wavers in his innocence, despite dire warnings and offers of a lesser sentence if he will confess that he murdered the child as part of a Jewish custom. The conditions are extremely harsh. This was also a difficult book to read, however I was more invested in this character and rooting for him . . . but the book simply ended with him on the way to the trial . . . so I'm left wondering (or making up my own storyline) how it ended!

[I was extremely surprised that this novel was a winner because the Pulitzer is awarded  for distinguished fiction published in book form during the year by an American author, preferably dealing with American life.]

Ironweed by William Kennedy (1984 winner) is the story of  Francis Phelan, a bum in Albany. All his friends are bums and mostly drunks, too. When they are all drunk, there's pages of stupid dialogue that makes no sense as they argue and rant and talk to each other. They live in ways that lead to strange occurrences, like when Sandra dies propped up outside a mission, frozen to death and being gnawed on by dogs. Honestly, there were too many people "on the bum" and too much sex and too much drinking and too much stupidity for me to relate to or like any of the characters.

Francis wasn't always a bum. We learn his backstory through dead people who show up throughout the book. When he's working at the cemetery in the first chapter, we "see" and "hear" the thoughts of his father and mother in their graves! Later, men he's killed "show up" beside him on the bus or in the back of a truck he's loading. Finally, after 22 years, he revisits the family he abandoned after he accidentally dropped his 13-day-old son, killing him instantly. Yep, another not-so-pleasant story.

Once again, I admit that these books are often challenging to read and are definitely stretching me out of my comfort zone . . . which is what some goals should do, right!


  1. I admire the goal you've set for yourself. I have not read any of the books on your list this time. I have so many books lined up---too many! Plus, I usually add some of your favorites to my list. Never enough time for everything! Can't wait to see what you read next.

  2. Not a very appealing list, I must admit. I read Ironweed many years ago, and honestly don't remember what I thought of it at the time. It does sound like a very challenging group of books.

  3. This does sound like a challenging selection. But that's great for anyone also looking to make a reading stretch, so thank you.


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