Friday, March 09, 2012

ToB 2012: Salvage The Bones vs. Lightning Rods

Tournament of Books 2012

Lightning Rods
Helen DeWitt
Salvage The Bones
Jesmyn Ward

Before we get started, let's discuss what happened yesterday.

I'm not at all surprised that The Devil All The Time fell to The Sense Of An Ending.  After I read the judgement this morning, I picked up my copy of The Sense Of An Ending and started reading.  I hadn't read it yet and I thought I could probably plow through a good portion of it in the short time I had available for reading.  I agree with Judge Emma Straub when she says that "the book is stripped down to the studs..."  There is not a bit of fat in the text and Barnes' sentences are expertly crafted to wring every bit of meaning out of each word without making it feel heavy or dense.  I haven't finished yet so I can't comment on the ending that so many people seemed to dislike, but I'm not worried.  The craft in The Devil All The Time is in the plotting and not as much in the individual sentences.  If books were gardens, Pollock's novel  would be a wonderful mix of wildflowers that together form a surprising and delightful experience.  The garden of Julian Barnes would appear sparse and small from a distance, but upon closer inspection, each stalk, leaf and petal would be perfect.

On to today's match-up!
Full disclosure: I haven't read either of these books, but I look forward to reading them in the future.

Today we have another case of a high-profile award-winning novel, Salvage The Bones (National Book Award) up against a lesser known (but notorious!) novel.  Jesmyn Ward's novel is rooted firmly in reality, detailing the life of poor, pregnant 15 year old and her family in the ten days leading up to the arrival of Hurricane Katrina on the Gulf Coast of the United States.  Helen DeWitt's novel was called "a funny, filthy volume" by the New York Times Sunday Book Review.  DeWitt's main character, a failed salesman named Joe, starts a temp agency that essentially provides glory holes to businesses.  Let me quote the NYT again: "The basic premise for Lightning Rods is so audacious that it might be hard to get past its general conceit, but its true brilliance lies in DeWitt’s careful deployment of language so common that we no longer see it."

Once again we have two books that have similarities but also contrast sharply.  Salvage The Bones has been called "poetic" and beautiful, but the beauty in Lightning Rods appears to be so subtle you might miss it.  Both authors are female and use sex and female sexuality to get at a deeper truth.  Ward's novel focuses on poor southern black people and DeWitt's novel focuses on (mostly) white men in a business setting.

My prediction is that Salvage The Bones will move on to the next round.  According to your votes, Lightning Rods has slightly more support than yesterday's fallen contender, but the over 80% of you cast your votes for Salvage The Bones.

What do you think about this match-up?  Did Lightning Rods ever have a real chance against Salvage The Bones? is a sponsor of the Tournament of Books and you would be doing them (and me) a big favor if you used this link to buy any of the books in this year's tournament.  All ToB books are 30% off their list price and you'll be supporting a great bookseller!

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