National Book Awards

Sorry to interrupt VeganMofo, but the National Book Awards longlist was published yesterday. Usually I am completely unaware of most of the books on the list because I read more foreign fiction, but this time I’ve not only read but also reviewed two of them, The Flamethrowers and Pacific. You can follow those links to my reviews and check out the entire fiction longlist below. The best place for literary award discussion and betting is the forum at The Mooske and the Gripes.

  • Pacific — Tom Drury
  • The End of the Point — Elizabeth Graver
  • The Flamethrowers — Rachel Kushner
  • The Lowland — Jhumpa Lahiri
  • A Constellation of Vital Phenomena — Anthony Marra
  • The Good Lord Bird — James McBride
  • Someone — Alice McDermott
  • Bleeding Edge — Thomas Pynchon
  • Tenth of December — George Saunders
  • Fools — Joan Silber

Twin Peaks as written by Raymond Carver.

Cover of Pacific by Tom Drury
Pacific by Tom Drury

Tiny Darling is father to Micah Darling. Micah is brother to Lyris Darling and Eamon Hammerhill. Lyris and Micah are both the children of Joan Gower, who plays sister Mia on the television show “Forensic Mystic.” Tiny was once married to Louise Norman, thrift store owner. This is just a segment of the web of relationships that tie together Tom Drury’s Pacific.

Each person has a first name and a last name. Each possess a weight in the text. As Eamon says, “everyone must have an arc and a conflict.” These characters and the entire novel are a series of tiny details shellacked together. Scenes are specific, most a span of minutes only. Together these details repeat, clump together to create a work.

If there is a plot, it is this. Micah moves from tiny Stone City to L.A. to live with his estranged mother. His father starts a career as the white hat equivalent of a bandit. A stranger from out of town sets up a shady business selling Celtic antiques. Ex-sheriff Dan Norman investigates. There are drugs and sword fights and beach volleyball. Mystic elements abound. And funerals and a good bit of TV watching. It is a small town after all.

The end is unsatisfying–how could it be otherwise? One does not read a book like this to finish a plotline. One reads it to hear Tiny’s parting advice to his son (“Put your head down and random in the solar plexs. It’s unexpected.”) One reads it to probe the tensions between Louise and Lyris, the daughter she could never have. (“‘I get afraid sometimes.’ ‘Of what?’ ‘Oh, that I will be left, or that it’s the end of the world?’ ‘Yeah,’ said Louise. ‘Yeah.’” ). All an ending is in this context is a television being turned of, replacing these curious lives with a blank screen.