This matchup is riddled with conflicts of interest here in the announcer’s booth. Judge Jon Eig is a good friend of mine and Keith Lee Morris, author of The Dart League King
, teaches in the same department as you at Clemson.
Now, if this competition were a prose slam, Toni Morrison would be meeting Jhumpa Lahiri in the final after fighting off Marilynne Robinson in a tough prelim. The women have it all over the men this year in the art of putting the perfect word next to a bunch of other words. I have always admired Morrison’s style and she is as good in this book as she has ever been.
But Jon! The Dart League King
! Come on, it’s awesome! I had never heard of Keith Lee Morris before I picked up this book and it knocked me on my ass. I laughed through the first third, thinking it was one kind of story and then something entirely unexpected and shocking happens that made me realize it was a different kind of novel entirely. It’s funny, it’s dark, it’s fast-paced, and the characters are terrific. It reminds me a little bit of early Martin Amis (not as deep or bitingly satirical as Amis, but it has darts!
) and a little bit of Elmore Leonard.
I’m going to say it here in the first round because I might not get another chance. The Dart League King
might be my favorite book in this whole tournament. It’s first or a very close second.
Of course, it’s hard to fault Jon for advancing a poignant book about American slavery by probably the last American Nobel Prize Winner for Literature we will see in our lifetime over a book about a coked-up night of playing darts in Idaho. But The Dart League King
is the kind of book you don’t need to explain to anyone why it’s great. Just put it in a friend’s hands and tell him that it rocks.
And while A Mercy
is sincere and beautifully written, I thought the underlying themes weren’t really up to the surface subject matter. Fiction frequently uses stories that are small and personal and easy to understand as metaphors for things that are large and difficult to wrap our heads around. It felt a little to me like Morrison was using slavery, this huge thing that’s impossible to comprehend, as a metaphor for something that’s kind of small and easy to understand.
That’s transparent nitpicking, but it’s all a way of expressing my dismay (although certainly not shock) that The Dart League King
is dead. I don’t know what kind of support this small-press book will get in the Zombie voting, but I am hoping for a miracle resurrection. Or barring a comeback, I hope that people will still go seek it out and read it. It’s terrific.
As you note, my objectivity is completely compromised in this match-up and I won’t pretend otherwise. I recommended The Dart League King
for the tournament when I first read the pre-pub copy and have been an unabashed booster for the book in various corners of the internet since. I’m psyched that both you and Jon Eig liked it as much as I did, but I feel like Steve Bartman reached over and snatched a catchable foul ball out of Moises Alou’s glove to give Morrison the victory.
Keith’s book is a major pleasure to read and in themes and feel a bit of a throwback to something like Rock Springs
Richard Ford. I ripped through it like crazy on the flight back from Book Expo and it was the second best book I read in calendar year 2008, the best being Revolutionary Road.
Plus, Keith is a good guy who’s bought me a beer in two different states.
But as Judge Eig demonstrates, it’s hard not to be impressed with Toni Morrison. She’s reached the status where her books are her own genre like Pynchon or Cormac McCarthy, or maybe even Roberto Bolaño now. Her books are kind of difficult, often confusing in the moment, but they manage to burrow their way in and lodge somewhere in the solar plexus as they accrue more and more weight and power. I felt like I could have easily put down A Mercy
after 25 pages and never thought about it again, but by the end, I did find myself strongly affected by the novel.
Still, A Mercy,
really is Morrison reduced calorie. It’s got the flavors you expect, but the portion is smaller and ultimately not as satisfying.
I want a recount. Failing that, I’m also praying for a zombie resurrection for The Dart League King
So far we’ve had wins by three of the lower seeded books which puts us about on par according to this fascinating if possibly futile analysis of past results
. If My Revolutions
can take out Home
tomorrow, the underdogs will have officially split the first round.