Culture

The Great Pulitzer Fail of 2012

Culture

The Great Pulitzer Fail of 2012

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This year, despite three excellent contenders (one might even go so far as to say shoe-ins), no piece of fiction brought home the Pulitzer prize, resulting in a tie, and breaking a precedent that hadn’t been broken since 1977 with A River Runs Through It. The only difference is, while one might understandably overlook a novel as mediocre as A River Runs Through It, no one can conscionably  argue that any one of the finalists for the prize, Karen Russell’s Swamplandia!, Denis Johnson’s Train Dreams, first published as a story in the Paris Review in 2002, and David Foster Wallace’s posthumous The Pale King, is guilty of mediocrity by any standard. It might, in fact, be one of the first times when novels are punished for being too good. At least, in such a public manner–complex novels notoriously get the shit end of the stick (for another Pulitzer bluff, see Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow). But in this enlightened age, far removed from the exacting critical standards of the ’70s, we have to wonder if greater political forces were at play. Did the committee fear seeming cheap by awarding the $10,000 prize to Wallace’s ghost? Of heaping excess praise upon the already much-heaped-upon author of Tree of Smoke? Of seeming too trendy and contrarian in choosing Russell’s slightly weaker contender? We may never know. All we can say is, better luck next year, fiction.