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 »
Then We Came to the Endby JOSHUA FERRIS
Remainderby TOM McCARTHY
KEVIN: Oh, the Rooster is a fickle mistress. Actually, the Rooster is less a fickle mistress than it is a sleazy photographer boyfriend who promises the snaps he’s taking on his camera phone are both arty and private and then waits for you to make it big before releasing them on the internet to embarrass you or, in the event that you don’t make it big fast enough, to embarrass Lindsay Lohan.
The actual Lindsay Lohan, on the other hand, if she happened to be your mistress (which, considering how much she drinks, is not all that far-fetched), would be pretty fickle, I bet.
John, you and I are both big fans of Then We Came to the End, but every time it advanced in this competition one of us, you or I or the judge, marveled at how well its obvious artifice worked on us. I suppose it was inevitable that the book would eventually run into a reader for whom it worked not quite as well, at least, in this case, as it compared to Remainder, which I haven’t yet read.
The Brit McCarthy had lots of supporters, however, and they are no doubt in the streets tonight, tipping Mini-Coopers and spray-painting the Remainder colours on posh shop windows and phone boxes. The BBC will be full of hand-wringing, wondering what has happened to today’s youth, and suggesting that they read too many novels and have too easy access to aerosol paint. It’s like a Bill Buford book out there, or a Who rock opera. I’m boarding up the windows and fleeing on my Vespa.
JOHN: I think what’s clear is that both of these books were successful at fulfilling their own ambitions. Even in the second round, when judge Mark Liberman found Remainder more toxic than the bottom of Dennis Rodman’s old gym bag.
What this shows is that, just like our N.C.A.A. basketball inspiration, it’s not the seeding that matters, but the match-up. The second-seeded Duke Blue Devils went down to the lower-seeded West Virginia Mountaineers not because of the seeding, or because God hates preppy private universities that provided the inspiration for I Am Charlotte Simmons, but because Duke’s post-play is softer than Michael Moore’s back fat and the Mountaineers have some space eaters in the middle. End result: 18-5 domination on the offensive boards and massive tooth gnashing by Duke graduate brother.
(Sorry bro, Duke sucks.)
Unlike the semis, where the match-up went Ferris’s way against Tree of Smoke, McCarthy’s Remainder found its ideal audience in our TMN patron, Rosecrans Baldwin. You’ve got to feel bad for Ferris, given that his book won more match-ups than any other in the tourney thus far, receiving props even in defeat, but that’s just the way the Rooster rolls.
Remainder, a truly odd book that no one is quite clear exactly why they like, now faces the ultimate test in the finals as it meets our full judging panel. You’ve got to put it as the underdog against either of the potential other finalists, but zombies are notoriously hard to kill.
Unless you have fire.