Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Kennedy Library Votes for Pulitzer

Because there was no Pulitzer Prize for fiction awarded in 2012, the Kennedy Library (Muncie, IN) book club decided to read the three finalists and vote.  The idea caught on and was opened to any patron; people could vote in person or on line.  The hands-down winner was Train Dreams, by Denis Johnson. This was also my personal choice.

The brief back flap material says:  Denis Johnson’s Train Dreams is an epic in miniature, one of his most evocative and poignant fictions. It is the story of Robert Grainier, a day laborer in the American West at the start of the twentieth century---an ordinary man in extraordinary times. Buffeted by the loss of his family, Grainer struggles to make sense of this strange new world. As his story unfolds, we witness both his shocking personal defeats and the radical changes that transform America in his lifetime. Suffused with the history and landscapes of the American West, this novella by the National Book Award--winning author of Tree of Smoke captures the disappearance of a distinctly American way of life.

All of that is true, but what makes the book great is the vivid pictures of Robert Grainer's life as an orphan riding the train to his aunt and uncle's, his years working on the railroad, a raging fire that destroyed his home and dreams, and the rundown shack he built closer to the end of his life.  I can still see about ten of the scenes, all of them various places in rural America.When I can remember scenes from a book months later I know I'll remember it for years.

The writing is simple and deep. All of this, and it's a novella. Your library surely has it.  If not, make them buy it.

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