April 2, 2010
Kevin Guilfoile & John Warner
John: Have you ever had a friend that another group of friends had never met, and all this time you’d been talking about this friend to your other group of friends, how great so-and-so is, that you’ll just love so-and-so, that you can’t wait for them to meet so-and-so?
You love so-and-so. You get so-and-so. You see deep things in so-and-so and think that because you’re also friends with these other people they will also see these things and maybe even you’ll be able to join a kind of mutual appreciation society of so-and-so.
But then, when your friends meet so-and-so, they shrug. He’s all right, they say. He’s OK, they say. It’s not that they hate so-and-so, but neither is so-and-so as special to them as he is to you, and, well, that stings a little.
Fever Chart is my so-and-so of this year’s tourney.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not backing away from my admiration for the book. You won’t read a fresher, funnier novel this year, or next year, and quite possibly the year after. Maybe I’m easily amused. Maybe I’m a sucker for a novel with an ineffectual male, perhaps being one myself.
But just as with Alexander Chee’s assessment of it in the Opening Round, I can’t necessarily disagree with what Julie Powell has to say here. She read the book. She seems to get it. It just didn’t merit much more than an it was all right from her. Of course, this is how I feel about Wolf Hall, so I’d say we’re even, except I don’t have a vote.
If I’m not mistaken, this is only the second time that two no. 1 seeds will meet in the Championship, the last time having been the inaugural tourney where Cloud Atlas took out The Plot Against America. Every other occasion it’s been a scrappy underdog versus a heavy-hitting favoriteand quite honestly, I miss that dynamic this year, even though in each other instance, the favorite has walked away with the title.
Kevin: One thing that happens every year at the Tournament of Books is that the book that wins isn’t really the book that wins. Does Toni Morrison even know she won this thing? Cormac McCarthy? Sure, they asked their manservants why the hell there’s a live chicken residing in their kitchens, but they probably didn’t pay attention to the answer. They have weightier things on their minds.
On the other hand, terrific but lesser-known books go down each year in defeat, yet find many new readers as a result. Home Land by Sam Lipsyte and Remainder by Tom McCarthy each finished a surprising second in their respective tourneys. In 2009, there was the runner-up, Tom Piazza’s terrific City of Refuge, but also Mark Sarvas’s Harry Revised and The Dart League King by Keith Lee Morris. This year I think we can add Fever Chart and The Book of Night Women to the list of sleeper books that were introduced to an audience that might not have read them if not for the ToB.
I know you like an underdog in the mix, as do I, and personally neither of us were as excited about these books as others were, at least not compared to our feelings for some of the field’s other titles. But let’s not overlook the historic nature of this thing. Not only do we have two heavyweights lined up against each othera mammoth work of historical fiction from the New World versus a colossal beast of historical fiction from the Oldbut for the first time in Tournament history we have an all-female Championship. On Wednesday, Andrew Seal (who did a terrific job with his statistical analysis this season) identified an overall male bias in all book awards (including the ToB), but on Monday a woman is going to win the Rooster for the third time in six years.
What has also been decided is our side bet. Before the Tournament, you and I ranked the books in the order we thought they would most likely finish. As books advanced, we each received points based on our rankings. Both of us had Let the Great World Spin on top, but there was quite a bit of variation after that. Since I currently have the lead, 298-277, and have both finalists ranked higher than you, I have this thing wrapped up, meaning you should start wrapping my delicious wheel of cheese.
So, on Monday, 17 people will pick one title or the other. Some will pick the one they love best, others will pick the one they hated least, but in the end a champion book will be crowned.
Kevin Guilfoile is a contributing writer for TMN. His debut novel, Cast of Shadows, has been translated into more than 17 languages, and his second novel, The Thousand, will be published in August 2010 by Alfred A. Knopf.
John Warner is a contributing writer for TMN. He is the author of Fondling Your Muse: Infallible Advice From a Published Author to the Writerly Aspirant. He teaches at Clemson University.