Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Book Reviews | Pulitzers

I am very (very!) close to finishing my goal of reading all the Fiction Pulitzer Prize Winners from 1948 through 2018! Here's a look at a few recent completions.



Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner (1972 winner)
A fairly good read, well-written, with lots of details as Lyman Ward researches and writes about his grandmother's life. Grandmother was an artist and a writer, a "snobby" Eastern lady with high ideals who married an engineer and moved West with him "temporarily." They lived in mining villages and out on the desert. Oliver Ward (Grandfather) was a man of integrity, but had lots of bad luck. There's lots of interesting information about the history of mining and irrigation and western life and families. Unfortunately their marriage, while long-lasting, weathered so many hardships that it was not a happy one much of the time.

The narrator, Lyman, is also dealing with his divorce and his deteriorating body (his skeleton is solidifying and he's had an amputation) as well as his feelings toward the wife who cheated on him. The "angle of repose" is the angle where rock and sand stop sliding down into the ditch. This is a good read without a satisfying conclusion.

Humboldt's Gift by Saul Bellow (1976 winner)
A very loooooooong book, which I read on my Kindle. Charles Citrine, a writer, is an older man now, living in Chicago, looking back on his life. He was infatuated with Von Humboldt Fleisher, a poet who'd had a brief stint of success.

Citrine is so gullible and many of the characters take advantage of him. He shares lots of musings (while other things are going on); he's always thinking about poetry or literature or success. There are many, many references to authors and/or books I'm not familiar with or don't know much about. He has an ex-wife (who is suing him for more money), 2 daughters (who are rarely mentioned), a girlfriend, Renata (who uses him for a trip to Europe, then dumps him & marries someone else). There's a lot of build up about the gift Humbolt left him … but, honestly, it's kind of a let down because Citrine doesn't really take advantage of it (but others again take advantage of him).

Two interesting notes about this long-winded and somewhat boring book:
(1) The book had perfect punctuation ... except there were no commas in lists of things or descriptions.
(2) Citrine shares his thoughts on the Pulitzer (which is hilarious since this book ended up winning the prize). "The Pulitzer if for the birds - for the pullets. It's just a dummy newspaper publicity award given by crooks and illiterates. You become a walking Pulitzer ad, so even when you croak the first words of the obituary are 'Pulitzer prizewinner passes.'"

Independence Day by Richard Ford (1996 winner)
The book follows four days in the life of Frank Bascombe, a realtor in Haddam, New Jersey, who is dealing with lots of "issues" - a couple wanting to buy a house who are difficult to work with, a girlfriend who suddenly seems to want to be serious, a son who has a court hearing coming up and is dealing with issues after his parent's divorce. In the end, after four wordily described days through Frank's thinking and thinking and thinking, nothing really changes other than his thinking maybe things are getting better. (I learned that this was the 2nd in a series of books, so maybe taken together something happens!)

The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love by Oscar Hijuelos (1990 winner)
This story centers around two Cuban brothers who write and sing songs. The older brother, Cesar is in a hotel room, dying, looking back and remembering his life and their one moment of fame when they played on the I Love Lucy show with Desi Arnaz. He reminisces about drinking and smoking and many overly explicit scenes of carnal lust and I was glad to get to the end of his tale!

Rabbit at Rest by John Updike (1991 winner) 
[**spoiler alert - some plot twists revealed in my review**]
Since I'd already read Rabbit Is Rich (the 1982 Pulitzer winner, which I reviewed HERE), I was prepared to be disappointed in this book. The story picks up now that Rabbit, aka Harry Angstrom, and his wife Janice are semi-retired, living half the year in Florida and the other half in Pennsylvania. Their son Nelson is now married and there are two grandchildren. At the beginning of the book, I almost thought it would be ok as Rabbit was older and more relaxed and trying to be a good grandfather … then there was that night he spent with his daughter-in-law … and I can't say that I wasn't glad to see it all end when Rabbit was finally at rest eternally.

Have you read any of these books? Please share your thoughts in the comments.


  1. Humboldt's Gift is one I want to read, so I am glad to see your review. I skipped over the review of Rabbit because I have a good friend who says that whole series is a must read. I guess I'd better get busy with more reading. Congrats on closing in on your goal for the year.

  2. That is such a great project to complete, and you are now extremely well read! I always enjoy your reviews and all of them are new to me.

  3. I haven't knowingly read any Pulitzer Prize winning novels - I've very impressed that you have tackled them all!

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