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 »
You Don’t Love Me Yetby JONATHAN LETHEM
New England Whiteby STEPHEN CARTER
Recently in the small, suffocating world of short story contests, there was a bit of a flap. Zadie Smith, judging the Willesden Herald contest, decided not to award the prize. None of the entries was good enough, she said.
Well. The Rooster may not have such a fancy name. We may not have a single celebrity judge (actually we have several), and we certainly don’t have £5,000 to give awaybut it is a contest nevertheless and the point of a contest is to choose a winner! From the best available options. Bestow encouragement, money, a live rooster, anything, on the writer whose next work you want to read. It’s unfathomable to me how anyone could see this differently. What harm could possibly come to your precious contest by just following the rules, choosing a winner, and hoping for a better batch of entries next year?
Fortunately for me, the Rooster does not have such a precious view of itself. It stands, in fact, against preciousness, so I will choose a winner of this round even though I didn’t care for either book. I’ve read and loved some of Lethem’s earlier work, so I was surprised by You Don’t Love Me Yet. The jacket copy declared a raucous romantic farce from the incomparable Lethem. Incomparable I agree with, but the promise of farce began to confuse me. I must be missing something, I thought, about halfway through. Long-married and raised on classical music, I was prepared to blame myself. But how in touch with romantic comedy and the alternative band scene should you have to be to enjoy a book? Shouldn’t it be the author’s job to make them irresistible? He almost had me with the Aparty, the book’s best section. Our apathetic, nameless band is asked to play, silently, at a party to which everyone will arrive with their own music and headphones (think apart, y). A funny idea, but after the Aparty, which goes, of course, terribly awry, the band’s sudden success derails the book as much as it derails the band.
Reading New England White was my first encounter with the work of Stephen Carter and after a disheartening few days, I found a way to enjoy it: I opened it each night the way you might tune into a bad TV show. I’d check-in for a chapter or two just to see what predictable thing the characters were going to say next. The book is supposed to be relentlessly suspenseful. I’d say that’s a nice euphemism for repeated foreshadowing. And I know Carter has interesting things to say about race relations in America, but how can you concentrate on them when they’re surrounded by silly prose: Julia was kicking herself, and not only because she and Mary might both be dead in five minutes. Don’t you just hate it when you’re about to be dead in five minutes?
So, two disappointing novels but the Rooster must go on! For me it comes down to this: I will read what Lethem writes next. I would not encourage Carter to write another work of fiction.
|Maybe Stephen Carter does a little too much foreshadowing only because the rest of the literary world is doing too little of it.||Kevin||John||We seem to thirst for honesty and authenticity and yet we don’t want too much honesty.|