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 »
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Waoby JUNOT DÍAZ
The Shadow Catcherby MARIANNE WIGGINS
The truth is that I would never have picked up Marianne Wiggins’s novel in a thousand years. It was called The Shadow Catcher, for a start, a title so unarrestingly quiet that you could be forgiven for wandering off halfway through reading it. The cover depicts a landscapefirs and distant mountainsand is every bit as sleepy. And the jacket blurb promises a historical novel wrapped up in a tricksy present-day narrative featuring a writer called Marianne Wigginsbut not, apparently, the Marianne Wiggins who wrote the book.
The opening of the novel set my prejudices even harder. Marianne Wiggins is taking a meeting with a bunch of stupid Hollywood suits who want to turn her historical novel into something vulgarly redemptive. We’ve read and seen things like it before, and even intelligent writers make the mistake of portraying movie producers as dim. They’re notthey’re almost always smart. Vicious, shallow, two-faced, obsequious, money-grubbing, and smart. But from that point on, The Shadow Catcher turns into something else. The present-day story turns out to be both intriguing and discursive, and the historical novella buried within, about the photographer Edward Curtis, is beautiful, strange, and absorbing. In the end, I was sorry that The Shadow Catcher ran straight into Junot Díaz’s juggernaut.
The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao is a career-defining novel. Arriving 10 or so years after Díaz’s collection of short stories, it pretty much had to be great, and it isit’s angry, funny, sad, sexy, exuberant, imaginative, and completely controlled. I didn’t know that I wanted to learn so much about the Dominican Republic, but in Díaz’s hands, the Dominican Republic is the whole world and two-thirds of a small island at the same time. Marianne Wiggins shouldn’t mind too much, because this book would have mashed any other novel I’ve read in the last year. Who’s going to stop it?
|In order to get to the finals, Ferris and Díaz will each have to get past a book left for dead. An angry, pus-oozing, brain-eater of a novel that has been given a second chance at the title.||Kevin||John||I could pass by that book on the new-fiction table 100 times and it just wouldn’t call out to me, saying, Pick me up, read my description, check out my blurbs.|