This week Donna Tartt’s novel The Goldfinch was awarded the 2014 Pulitzer Prize in fiction. The spellbinding story of a young boy who survives the tragic loss of his mother and finds himself drawn into the hazardous underbelly of the art world, Tartt’s novel received high praise in many literary circles, and its Pulitzer win will bring an enormous amount of renewed attention to this wonderful book and its author.
Although it’s important for seminal works of fiction to be rewarded and recognized, literary taste is also difficult to predict and impossible to dictate, and one person’s absolute favorite must-read novel can just as easily be another’s Did Not Finish. Still, reflecting on the Pulitzer fiction winners (or, in one case, nominees) of the last ten years, I was surprised to realize how many of the books I on the list I had read (and loved). Here’s a look back at the last 9 years’ of Pulitzer winners:
2013: The Orphan Master’s Son, by Adam Johnson
The riveting tale of a North Korean citizen working as a government-sanctioned kidnapper, this vivid, harrowing novel offers a portrait of a nation confronting unbelievable violence and hopelessness, and lifts the veil of secrecy surrounding one of the most mysterious and frightening countries in the world.
2012: Nominees (No prize awarded [This seems unfair, but oh well]):
Train Dreams, by Denis Johnson, a lyrical, tragic novella about the difficult life of a turn-of-the-century American orphan.
Swamplandia!, by Karen Russell, an eccentric story set in an alligator-wrestling theme park in the Florida Everglades.
The Pale King, by David Foster Wallace, a brilliantly dolorous, posthumously published unfinished story set at an I.R.S. office in the Midwest.
2011: A Visit from the Goon Squad, by Jennifer Egan
A wickedly funny, brutally honest story of an aging record executive and his friends as they both confront and try to escape the inexorable march of time. Egan’s prose is masterful, her characters richly imagined, unique, and touched by tragedy.
2010: Tinkers, by Paul Harding
The story of an elderly clock repairman on his deathbed, and his memories of his father, Tinkers is a pensive, melancholy, and evocative meditation on the nature of life, death, family, and the passage of time. Harding’s novel was published, after many struggles, by a tiny independent press, and its winning of the Pulitzer was an inspiring triumph.
2009: Olive Kitteridge, by Elizabeth Strout
Set in the fictional, hardscrabble seaside town of Crosby, Maine, Strout’s collection of stories features characters whose lives intertwine with that of retired schoolteacher Olive Kitteridge, a stubborn, irascible woman who gradually comes to a better understanding of her place in Crosby and in the world.
2008: The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, by Junot Diaz
This darkly funny novel traces a family’s journey, through several generations, from Santo Domingo to New Jersey, culminating in the ultimately tragic narrative of shy, overweight bookworm Oscar.
2007: The Road, by Cormac McCarthy
A bleak imagining of a terrifying, postapocalyptic world of diminishing resources, which showcases, by turns, humanity’s darkest urges as well as its noblest instincts.
2006: March, by Geraldine Brooks
A gripping and historically captivating imagining of the life and times of the absent father of the famous March family from Louisa May Alcott’s classic Little Women, whose faith in humanity is tested during his services as a chaplain during the Civil War.
2005: Gilead, by Marilynne Robinson
An elderly and infirm Congregationalist pastor in the small, isolated town of Gilead, Iowa, remembers stories of his father and grandfather in order to pass down a record of family history to his young son.
Does a novel’s winning a Pulitzer make you more likely to read it?