Thursday, October 14, 2010

National Book Award nominees

The five finalists for the National Book Award in fiction were announced earlier today. They are: Peter Carey’s Parrot and Olivier in America (Alfred A. Knopf), Jaimy Gordon’s Lord of Misrule (McPherson), Nicole Krauss’s Great House (W. W. Norton), Lionel Shriver’s So Much for That (Harper), and Karen Tei Yamashita’s I Hotel (Coffee House Press).

The most striking thing about the list, of course, is the omission of Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom. Overlooking Jennifer Egan’s Visit from the Goon Squad was an actual mistake.

Except for Peter Carey, who has to be rated the favorite, although he is not really an American novelist in any respect, the nominees are undistinguished. Lionel Shriver’s books are an exemplary illustration of what Nabokov meant by “topical trash.” Nicole Krauss’s diminutive goose is based on an idea that Larry McMurtry considered and rejected. The disparate and unrelated characters are connected by a piece of furniture. McMurtry’s idea was to follow a crib as it was passed from young couple to young couple. Krauss puts a desk at the center of her novel, but McMurtry knew what he was doing in never writing his book. The idea is the sort of clever-sounding device that ought never to get beyond a writer’s notebook, because it ceases to be clever and becomes mechanical fairly quickly.

For that reason, Great House will probably win the Award.