There's some mighty good writing out there, and I'm about to tell you about it.
Somewhere, maybe in an op-ed article, I read a woman's disgust that the Pulitzer committee did not award a prize for fiction last year. She mentioned three books she felt were well-qualified and overlooked. I called my branch library and reserved all three. I soon had the first one.
You know that feeling of tremendous satisfaction and almost awe when you pick up a book that captivates you from the outset? I did not want this book, really a novella, to end as I savored it. The author, Denis Johnson, can write, and what a wonderful character he has given us.
Robert Grainier is a day laborer and one of the most endearing, perfectly drawn characters I've ever met. He lives in a period when innovations enter lives frequently, so we remember history as we live his life. And what a life he has. All a man needs, he thinks, is an acre of land, a wagon and two mares. Sound simple? He has lost his family to a forest fire, and he changes jobs as opportunities offer themselves. He finally builds a hut with a roof, but his demands are few, his appreciation of life full. The descriptions of his surroundings are gems; actually, the book is a gem. Its title is “Train Dreams,” and I hope you will treasure it as much as I.
“Swamplandia” is the second of the books considered worthy of the Pulitzer. It's by Karen Russell, a very young author. She has written the story of a failing park in the Everglades and the family that puts on the show every day for tourists.
By the time we meet them, the mother, who was the star, has died. She had dived into the alligator-full channel and swum out to the end, binding together the jaws of an alligator — but she has made it through unscathed — day after day after day. Now she is gone. I'm not going to tell you much.
We hear a lot of the story from daughter Ava; that's first person. Son Kiwi leaves to make money for his family, and his story is told in third person. (Don't ask me why; I don't know.) The third sibling is Osceola, called Ossie; she has a ghost lover whom she leaves home to marry. Ava wants to save her and so begins a trip through the swamp to find and rescue Ossie, while Kiwi is finding out about life in another part of the entertainment world.
You'll learn a lot about swamps. It seems the government made a bad mistake by dropping seeds from an airplane into the swamps, and this disaster impedes progress all along the way. Melaleuca is another antagonist for our protagonist to face. Anyway, I thought the book was entertaining but not Pulitzer material. Judge for yourself.
The third is “The Pale King,” by David Foster Wallace, an author revered by his fans. This book was put together after his recent death from the voluminous amount of notes and pages of script he had written. The man who painfully assembled all the material into this book evidently loves paragraphs: some of his are a page and a half long. The first several pages are full of that kind of paragraph. I lost interest.
The due date at the library was fast approaching. Then I saw more writers saying they thought this book was worthy of the prize, which should have been awarded to Mr. Wallace because of his earlier works. “I'll get back to it,” I thought and turned to a book I cherished.
It's “Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey,” and the author is the Countess of Carnaron. It is a great picture of a way of life that you and I can only read about and also includes the discovery of King Tut's tomb, as well, because Lady Almina's husband was enamored of Egypt and worked with Carter trip after trip looking for the tomb, using a huge part of his tremendous fortune.
I found the television series intriguing. The book is even more so. Wait until you count how many persons there are dependent on the Earl and his family for their livelihoods. I gave it four stars.
I'd like to write about “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society,” written by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. It is full of humor and charm, even though it takes place during the German occupation of the island during WWII. And I'd like to discuss Steve Greenberg's book, “Enfold Me.” Steve grew up in Fort Wayne; I was lucky enough to have him as a student for a short while. I remember admiring his writing even then.
But that will have to wait for another column because I've already used up more than my allotted space, I'm afraid.