Friday, November 11, 2016

Pulitzer Prize Winning Books

I've mentioned before that the goal I set for myself to read all the Pulitzer Prize winners in fiction has been quite challenging on occasion. This task has definitely taken me out of my reading comfort zone a few times. Over the past couple of months, I completed four more books from the list of winners.
My reaction to the 1982 winner, Rabbit Is Rich by John Updike, is simply UGH! This 423-page book is told through the thoughts of Harry (Rabbit) Angstrom, a Toyota car salesman/dealership owner in the 1970s. There really wasn't a story per se, simply a recording of Harry's life and his thoughts (which were often vulgar and crass). The writing frequently drifted into stream of consciousness thought with no punctuation that lasted for several pages and was difficult to read. Over halfway through the book, the perspective shifts to Harry's son for a few chapters before returning to Harry's point of view.

The book did include lots of references to current events at that time - Carter's presidency, sunken living rooms, gas shortages, etc. There were some story lines within the book - Rabbit's son Nelson brings home a girl friend, but later his pregnant girlfriend arrives and they get married; Rabbit and his wife Janice hang out with their friends at the country club and all travel to the Caribbean together (resulting in some rather sultry goings-on) - however, none of these stories are all that interesting or fully developed. Basically, Rabbit is not a likeable character and the book is definitely a downer. In case it's not obvious yet, I definitely do not recommend this book!

The 1989 winner, Breathing Lessons: A Novel by Anne Tyler is a quick read with an interesting story about a day in the life of Maggie & Ira Moran, with lots of flashbacks to other times in their life. However, basically nothing of substance happens and it just ends with everything the same as it was at the beginning. During the course of the story, Maggie and Ira attend the funeral of friend's husband, visit their ex-daughter-in-law and granddaughter and invite them to come visit, and have a visit from their son who leaves when Ira points out that the son is currently in a relationship with another woman. Overall, the book is just the story of a couple married for 28 years who fight and make-up and have an ordinary life. Honestly, I'm simply neutral about this book - it was ok, quick to read, but nothing impressive occurs.

The Optimist's Daughter by Eudora Welty (winner in 1973) is another book where nothing really happens! It begins when Laurel arrives in New Orleans to be with her father, who is having an issue with his eye. He goes into the hospital and eventually passes away. Laurel and her father's young, selfish, flighty wife Fay return to Laurel's childhood home for the funeral. There are quite a few awkward interactions before the funeral, some involving Fay's "backwoods" family that comes from Texas for the funeral. Fay returns to Texas with them for a few days while Laurel spends her last days in the home she grew up in. Then she returns to her home in Chicago and the story ends. I didn't really enjoy the book as I couldn't relate to the characters and couldn't find any depth in the themes of death and loss and dealing with one's past grief. This is another book that I'm somewhat neutral when it comes to a recommendation.

I was intrigued by the premise of the 2006 winner, March by Geraldine Brooks, as the author created an account of a year in the life of Mr. March based on Louise May Alcott's novel, Little Women. Unfortunately it's been years since I read Little Women, but I did remember that Mr. March was gone  for much of the novel. This new novel is told from his perspective (except for a few chapters near the end when he's in the hospital, which are told from Mrs. March's viewpoint) and follows him through battles and hardships and illness and heartbreak. I enjoyed this historical fiction novel set during the Civil War. It was an interesting read and makes me want to re-read Little Women to see the overlaps and to remember how Mr. March is portrayed in that classic story.

These books bring my total Pulitzer Prize winners in fiction read to 25 (out of 62+), so I'm getting close to the halfway point of completing this goal.


  1. It is always interesting to get your perspective. I had always heard good things about the Rabbit series, but mostly from men coworkers, so maybe it is easier to enjoy in that case. I remember reading March and having felt it was a worthwhile story although I don't recall it being an enjoyable read, so that alone may speak to the fact that has it more depth.

  2. Always enjoyable to read your thoughts and perspective. Looks as if there are three I could cross off any list I might make for myself!

  3. Interesting to read your reviews, I remember reading in one of those 'books you should read' how such awards are given. They aren't always for the most enjoyable book.

  4. How interesting that three of the four lack a good narrative plot! I started March years ago, put it aside when I needed to read something else, and never got back to it. Geraldine Brooks is a favorite author of mine. Her "People of the Book" rates right up there on my Top 10 list.

  5. I've not read any of those books. These days, I have over 200 books on my list. So little time!

  6. I've read the Rabbit books and have to agree that Rabbit is a most unpleasant character. I think Mr March is probably much more my kind of man!

  7. Well this was perfect timing as I was looking for something to read & I always like to see what others are reading & liking/not liking. You have saved me several moments of time NOT well spent in a good book. I have put March on library request.


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