The Two Books that almost won the Pulitzer in 2014

As a follow up to yesterday’s blog about Donna Tartt’s book The Goldfinch, which won the Pulitzer in fiction this year, I felt I needed to give a nod to the two runners up.

First is Philipp Meyer’s The Son.

The Son

Here is the review.

An Amazon Best Book of the Month, June 2013: In 1859, Eli McCullough, the 13-year-old son of Texas pioneers, is captured in a brutal Comanche raid on his family’s homestead. First taken as a slave along with his less intrepid brother, Eli assimilates himself into Comanche culture, learning their arts of riding, hunting, and total warfare. When the tribe succumbs to waves of disease and settlers, Eli’s only option is a return to Texas, where his acquired thirsts for freedom and self-determination set a course for his family’s inexorable rise through the industries of cattle and oil. The Son is Philipp Meyer’s epic tale of more than 150 years of money, family, and power, told through the memories of three unforgettable narrators: Eli, now 100 and known simply as “the Colonel”; Eli’s son Peter, called “the great disappointment” for his failure to meet the family’s vision of itself; and Eli’s great-granddaughter Jeanne Anne, who struggles to maintain the McCullough empire in the economic frontier of modern Texas. The book is long but never dull—Meyer’s gift (and obsession) for historical detail and vernacular is revelatory, and the distinct voices of his fully fleshed-and-blooded characters drive the story. And let there be blood: some readers will flinch at Meyer’s blunt (and often mesmerizing) portrayal of violence in mid-19th century Texas, but it’s never gratuitous. His first novel, 2009’s American Rust, drew praise for its stark and original characterization of post-industrial America, but Meyer has outdone himself with The Son, as ambitious a book as any you’ll read this year–or any year. Early reviewers call it a masterpiece, and while it’s easy to dismiss so many raves as hyperbole, The Son is an extraordinary achievement. –Jon Foro

The other book that didn’t quite make the Pulitzer cut was The Woman Who Lost her Soul by Bob Shacochis.

The Woman who lost her soul

You gotta admit that’s a great title.

And the featured review.

An Amazon Best Book of the Month, September 2013: In this breathtakingly ambitious work, spanning the globe and many decades, Shacochis has crafted a (mostly) fictional backstory to 9/11, tracing the ancient hatreds that continue to infect history. At the story’s core is Jackie Smith (aka Renee Gardner, aka Dottie Chambers), posing as a photojournalist in late-1990s Haiti, a feral and dangerous place–where Jackie fits right in. Beautiful, heedless, and damaged, Jackie/Renee/Dottie is a man-eater: “Hers would be a slavish cult of eager youth and wicked men.” Among those who fall under her spell are the earnest humanitarian lawyer Tom Harrington and the malleable gung-ho Special Forces operative Eville Burnette, not to mention her Croatian-turned-America father, whose inappropriate attentions add a creepy touch. Lording above all is a group of golf buddies, shadowy puppet masters from the “acronymic spawn” of military and intelligence agencies, whom Shacochis hilarious calls “phallocrats”–“little guys with big d**ks, or at least big d**k syndrome.” From Haitian voodoo dances to World War II Croatian to the first inklings of a group of Arab extremists known as “The Base,” this is a spy thriller engorged into a brilliant reflection on “the cult of millennial revenge.” Inevitably, there will be Graham Greene and Joseph Conrad comparisons. I’d add two Davids to the mix: Lynch and Cronenberg. And though it’s a brick of a book, it rarely slows: transfixing and magical; sexy and lurid; propulsive and unpredictable and quite troubling. Some of the set pieces are unceasingly good, and every line is crafted with obsessive care–no small feat in a 700-page book. Awards judges? Take notice. —Neal Thompson


Neither of those books sounds like a little light reading before dropping off to bed.

Those Pulitzer people are serious about that deal.


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