The Morning News Tournament of Books, sponsored by Powell’s Books, is an annual battle royale amongst the top novels in “literary fiction” published throughout the year. Read more about this year’s tournament »
Firminby SAM SAVAGE
Brooklandby EMILY BARTON
Brookland is one of those elegant historical novels unembroidered by the ironic flourishes so common to today’s prose. And holy crap, it is so boring. First of all, it is 500 pages. There are books that long I’d happily read, but they don’t go by this description: An 18th-century distiller wants to build a bridge from Brooklyn to Manhattan. Or as I like to call it: An 18th-centuryzzzzzz What I can say about Brookland is that there are moving little momentsa slippery walk across the frozen East River one winter morning is onebut mostly, Brookland moved me to sleep. Apparently not everyone feels this way. Thomas Pynchon called novelist Emily Barton blessedly post-ironic, engaging, and heartfelt. That’s a stellar blurb, but then again, I haven’t been able to get into his books, either.
Firmin, meanwhile, is completely embroidered by the aforementioned ironic flourishes. The first sentence is about how the narrator can’t think of a good first sentence. How annoying is that? But I soon became absorbed in the adventures of the little rat who sustains himself by consuming (literally, figuratively) the tomes in a musty Boston bookstore. Firmin isn’t about what it feels like to be vermincold, smelly, one assumesbut it is about the tragedy of being unable to communicate, and the way literature can comfort even the loneliest beast. It’s also quite funny, and studded with endearingly familiar writers’ insecurities (like the inability to write a first sentence, for instance. And on a related note I was charmed by Sam Savage’s author’s photo, in which this first-time novelist is a dead ringer for Father Time.) Firmin isn’t the weightiest of booksa breezy 148 pages!but I plowed through it, and was thoroughly charmed the entire way. Really, it couldn’t be more different than Brooklandone has heft while the other brevity; one has an expansive scope while the other one is itty-bitty; one is a historic romance while the other a comic fantasy. But if we must compare them, then my choice is clear. Rats!
|The producers of Dancing With the Stars recently made it clear that it is more important that the contestants not be writers than it is for them to still have both their legs.||Kevin||John||After one 90-second performance on American Idol, Antonella Barba had a higher Q rating than just about any living writer.|