Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Pulitzer Progress

In my quest to complete all the Fiction Pulitzer Prize Winners by the end of the year, I'm striving to read one book each week. I've been pretty successful the past two months; however, I'm currently bogged down in A Fable by William Faulkner!

The 1992 winner, A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley, is a fairly good read. The story is told from Ginny's perspective as she looks back on her life growing up - her mother died when she was a teenager, so she was raised by her father. Ginny and her older sister Rose took care of (& spoiled) their younger sister Caroline.

The story continues through their adulthood when Ginny is married to Ty, who works the farm with her father. Rose's husband Pete also works the farm but always seems to be in an argument with their father. Caroline moves away and becomes a lawyer. There are lots of family dynamics, interesting interactions with neighbors in nearby farms and the closest town, as well as secrets that come to light throughout the book.

The thousand acre farm is a character in itself and is a central part of this story which has great characters and excellent character development. However, the conclusion was not satisfying despite everything being wrapped up in an epilogue (or maybe I just feel that way because it isn't really a happy ending).

Andersonville, the 1956 winner by MacKinlay Kantor, is a very (very!) long, well-researched historical novel set during the last year and a half of the Civil War. There are no quotations marks to delineate the abundant dialogue on the 750 pages, making this a very slow read. (I did not finish it in one week!)

The story begins in December 1863 when a prison is built in Anderson, Georgia, to house Union prisoners of war. Each chapter is told from a different character's perspective … and there are lots of characters. Many of the officers and prisoners in the story are drawn from real life; however, the author created a host of neighbors around the prison to enhance the story. The conditions in the extremely overcrowded prison were deplorable. The General in charge of the prison just wanted all the Yankees dead, so he didn't care about the living conditions or medical needs of the prisoners.

The details of life inside the prison are very graphic, disturbing and disgusting - a crippled prisoner pawing through the diarrhea or vomit of other prisoners to search for pieces of food, regulators banding together to overcome the raiders that were then tried and hanged, etc. This is a very informative book, but not for the faint of heart or squeamish.

The 1997 winner begins with Martin Dressler as a 13-year-old working in his father's cigar shop and follows his career in the hotel industry (bell boy, desk clerk, assistant to manager, owner) through his late 30s. His ultimate dream is to build a hotel where everything works together so that there's no need to go outside (to the real world) for anything. 

There are several other characters in Martin Dressler: The Tale of an American Dreamer, including a lady and her two grown daughters who play an integral part in Martin's life as he pursues his dreams by building The Dressler, then The New Dressler, then The Grand Cosmo. There are some weird dynamics, the plot moves somewhat slowly, and there are some really long  sentences (even covering several pages like the one below!).

The Keepers of the House, the 1965 winner, is set in the southern United States in the mid-1900s. The main character, Abigail Howland, tells the story of her grandfather, William Howland, who lives on the land the Howlands have farmed since the 1800s. His young wife died after two years of marriage, so Abigail was raised by her grandfather and Margaret, the free black woman who took care of the house and had three children by William. Each of these children is sent off to school in the north and never brought back because Margaret wants them to have the privileges of whites. [Warning - spoilers in the next paragraph!]

The story follows Abigail's childhood and college years, where she meets and then marries a man who wants to be governor and then senator, etc. However, Abigail learns that her grandfather had actually married Margaret all those years ago, and when one of Margaret's children leaks the information about the marriage to the press, Abigail's husband's career is ruined. The townsfolk burn down Abigail's barn, but she eventually gets even because when she inherited her grandfather's estate, she got ownership of practically everything in the small town. This is a very well-written and engaging story, although I thought it would end differently because Abigail actually respected the fact that her grandfather had married Margaret.

Foreign Affairs, the 1985 winner, was written by Alison Lurie whose first novel was published in 1962 and who has continued to write into the twenty-first century!  In 2002, she was named the New York State Author.

This novel, which I read on my Kindle, "traces the erotic entanglements of two American professors in England." Vinnie is on a six-month trip researching children's rhymes in England. She meets Chuck Mumpson from Oklahoma on the flight to London and dismisses him as a typical tourist with  no class, so their "affair" is unexpected and amusing. Fred, the other American professor, is estranged from his photographer wife when he arrives in London to do research. Through Vinnie, he meets Rosemary, a British actress with interesting psychological issues.

While the novel is about love affairs, it is not explicit or overdone, although there is some language throughout the book. The conclusion is ok as both professors return to the states and resume their teaching careers.

The 1960 winner, Advise and Consent by Allen Drury, is the first book in a series of political fiction books. This is another very long book that I read on my Kindle.

This story is divided into five sections, each focusing on a major character that moves the plot along as it follows the nomination and Senate hearings for a new Secretary of State. It is very well written, very detailed, with lots of dialogue and characters; however, it is easy to follow after the first few chapters when the characters become familiar.

There are quite a few plot surprises in this story that shows how the Senate works to confirm (or not) a nominee, with lots of political wrangling, some of which lead to unpleasant consequences. It's a story of politics and integrity and corruption and ambition that really makes me wonder how anything ever gets accomplished!

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

1 comment:

  1. I read A Thousand Acres years ago. I've not read any of the others, and must admit many are unfamiliar titles to me.


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