Some good news with the bad
A survey of literature's leading lights by the Pulitzer committee has resulted in as list of the best novels of the last twenty-five years. I was prepared to be disappointed, even dispirited, but there are diamonds amidst the animal droppings.
First the bad news. Toni Morrison's BELOVED was named the best novel of the last twenty-five years. Good grief. Words fail me. Actually, a few words come to mind, but they are not fit for a family blog.
I'm not the only one who considers this choice controversial.
Roger Kimball summed it up:
"Toni Morrison is the perfect New York Times poster girl," said Roger Kimball, the co-editor and publisher of The New Criterion, America's leading review of the arts and intellectual life, and the publisher of Encounter Books.
"Someone whose opinions and skin colour immunise her from criticism and whose cliché-riddled, melodramatic prose impart a hungry urgency to the tired Left-liberal yearnings of the paper's cultural commissars. Pathetic, but wholly typical."
However, there is some good news. Coming in at number number eight is WINTER'S TALE by Mark Helprin. Good grief! Maybe I'm a cynic, but I never thought someone as politically incorrect as Helprin would be honored by his (decidedly liberal) peers. Helprin deserves a better slot in the top ten, but it is an amazing tribute to his talent that he made the list at all. The cultural gatekeepers are usually less honest in their choices.
Don DeLillo and Philip Roth each appear twice in the top ten. DeLillo might be pleased; I doubt Roth is happy with barely cracking the top five. I say this without rancor. Roth is very talented. He would have justification for crying foul. John Updike should be happy. Although his RABBIT books (collected as one volume) might have been listed separately, resulting in Updike taking fourth through seventh place.
Of course, real writers don't think in such crude terms.
Here's the top ten:
1 Beloved - Toni Morrison (1987)
2 Underworld - Don DeLillo (1997)
3 Blood Meridian - Cormac McCarthy (1985)
4 Rabbit Angstrom: The Four Novels - John Updike (1995)
5 American Pastoral - Philip Roth (1997)
6 A Confederacy of Dunces - John Kennedy Toole (1980)
7 Housekeeping - Marilynne Robinson (1980)
8 Winter's Tale - Mark Helprin (1983)
9 White Noise - Don DeLillo (1985)
10 The Counterlife - Philip Roth (1986)
Personally, I would've put something by Walker Percy in that list before A CONFEDERACY OF DUNCES, but I confess to not being able to get through John Kennedy Toole's posthumous prize-winner. Still, CONFEDERACY does have an almost American-Idol-like following. You just can't keep that book down.