The Echo Maker: A Novel

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2007’s Pulitzer Winners

The winners and finalists for the Pultizer Prize were announced today. I had recently speculated that The Road wasn't a "typical Pulitzer candidate" in that the Pulitzer typically recognizes books that are less post-apocalyptic, but The Road suddenly appears unstoppable. (Note as well that we now officially have a book that was picked by Oprah before it won the Pulitzer. I bet that surprises some people.) Here are this year's Pulitzer winners and finalists with excerpts where available:Fiction:Winner: The Road by Cormac McCarthyAfter This by Alice McDermott - excerptThe Echo Maker by Richard Powers - excerptGeneral Nonfiction:Winner: The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11 by Lawrence Wright - excerptCrazy: A Father's Search Through America's Mental Health Madness by Pete EarleyFiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq by Thomas E. Ricks - excerptHistory:Winner: The Race Beat: The Press, the Civil Rights Struggle, and the Awakening of a Nation by Gene Roberts and Hank Klibanoff - excerptMiddle Passages: African American Journeys to Africa, 1787-2005 by James T. CampbellMayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and War by Nathaniel Philbrick - excerptBiography:Winner: The Most Famous Man in America: The Biography of Henry Ward Beecher by Debby Applegate - excerptJohn Wilkes: The Scandalous Father of Civil Liberty by Arthur H. Cash - excerpt (pdf)Andrew Carnegie by David NasawWinners and finalists in other categories are available at the Pulitzer Web site.

Oprah and the Recluse

You've got to hand it to Oprah. After a public snub from Jonathan Franzen, an abrupt switch to focusing on classic books, and a return to the contemporary with a confessional memoir that turns out to plagiarized - resulting in the very public humiliation of its author on her show - one would think that Oprah would have run out of opportunities to grab big headlines with her book club. And yet, by selecting Cormac McCarthy's The Road and convincing the famously reclusive author to appear on her show, she has done it yet again.I had a couple of thoughts about this pick. In the early days of the club, Oprah selected quite a few emotionally challenging books, often with female protagonists in some sort of peril. With her selection of Franzen's The Corrections, however, the club broke out of its shell and then traversed the various ups and downs noted above. Still, it is fascinating to me that this unabashedly mass market phenomenon, the TV show book club, would pick a book that is by all accounts harrowing and devastatingly serious and not an easy read in any sense. It's not the first time Oprah has selected a formally "difficult" book. Recall the "Summer of Faulkner." Still, to take a book that is all of the above and also contemporary seems rather incredible. It will also be interesting, if The Road goes on to win a Pulitizer or National Book Award, to have had Oprah "anoint" a book before our more formal institutions have.Secondly, I couldn't help but think about poor Franzen as I read the news that McCarthy would appear on Oprah's show. Franzen, of course, famously feuded with Oprah after she selected his book and he was publicly ambivalent about being an "Oprah author." This led to plenty of comments like this one from an independent bookstore owner at the time of the controversy, saying that she felt "that good literature cannot be an Oprah selection." With McCarthy appearing on the show for his "first television interview ever," it's hard to make that argument any more. We're talking about a legitimate Nobel Prize candidate here (and somehow this is different from Nobel laureate Gabriel Garcia Marquez's classic One Hundred Years of Solitude being selected a while back). And poor Franzen, taking a public stand for his art and facing plenty of ridicule at the time, has had his legs cut out from under him by a literary giant - a famously reclusive one at that - eschewing the hand-wringing and taking the Oprah honor in stride.Update: It's been pointed out to me that The Road missed its chance to win the National Book Award - it went to The Echo Maker, as you'll recall. The Road is still in the running for the Pulitzer, but as it is far from the typical Pulitzer candidate, I'd guess its chances there are slim. So McCarthy will have to be satisfied with the unlikely duo of an Oprah Pick and a TMN Tournament of Books win (which the book appears likely to snag).

Still Tied for the Lead, But for How Long

Very clever of The Morning News to do this whole bracket competition with their Tournament of Books, because here I am writing about it again. I can't help myself, especially with the palpable frisson of being tied for first. In all seriousness, though, I've greatly enjoyed both the write ups by the various judges and the attendant banter by Kevin Guilfoile and John Warner. Today's installment, pitting Thomas Pynchon's Against the Day against Pride of Baghdad, a graphic novel by Brian K. Vaughn and Niko Henrichon was, as judged by Anthony Doerr, particularly entertaining. The whole exercise has served as reminder, especially in light of recent controversies, that engaging with books in this fun and perhaps silly way can be just as worthwhile as "serious" criticism, especially if one counts among his goals getting more people to read more good books.Regardless of the merits of TMN's endeavors, though, I am in it to win this thing, and I remain tied with the formidable Condalmo. I fear, however, that I may be peaking early in this contest. The "zombie round" may yet give me new life, but as it stands now, my two finalists, Apex Hides the Hurt and The Echo Maker, are out of the competition.

Hot Book Tournament Action

The action at TMN's Tournament of books continues. Judge Marcus Sakey shocked the world by selecting The Emperor's Children over The Echo Maker, which was, to my mind, the presumptive favorite having taken down the National Book Award and all manner of praise from critics spanning the globe. But this, folks, is why we play the games. The Echo Maker going down early hurts our chances to win this thing as we had it going all the way (my pdf bracket). Luckily, a number of other folks had the book going far as well, so the damage is somewhat limited. In other news, the little rat that could, Firmin, made it through round one, selected by judge Sarah Hepola over Brookland, which she found to be "so boring."And today we have The Road coming out ahead of The Second Coming of Mavala Shikongo as judged by Maria Schneider. The result: Condalmo and I remain deadlocked at the top.

A Year in Reading: Edan Lepucki

My good friend Edan got married this year (to Millions contributor Patrick no less), got published in the LA Times West Magazine, and taught her own fiction workshop. She's also one of the gang I worked with at Book Soup in Los Angeles, where she regularly wowed customers with her literary knowledge. In spite of being enviably well-read, Edan has once again gone the cookbook route for our year end series, as is her wont:Since ALL of my favorite books of 2006 - The Echo Maker by Richard Powers; Everything that Rises by Lawrence Weschler; and The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan - have already been sufficiently lauded by other Millions contributors, I figured I'd instead sing the praises of one cookbook:Brunch: 100 Recipes from Five Points Restaurant by Marc Meyer and Peter Meehan I purchased this fabulous book for my husband, who seems to have conquered the kitchen on Sunday mornings because I can't, just can't, rise before ten. It's easy to get into a scrambled eggs-and-potatoes breakfast rut, but this book, with recipes for Bourbon Vanilla French Toast, Ricotta Fritters, Asparagus and Artichoke Baked Eggs and Applesauce Muffins (among 96 others), ensures amazing spreads each time. The book has lovely, drool-inducing photographs for motivation, and chef Marc Meyers (5 Points, I've learned, is a well-known NYC restaurant), urges us to make more bacon "than you think you want (or than you think you should eat)." Bless this man.Thanks Edan!

A Year in Reading: Bookdwarf

I've been reading Megan's blog Bookdwarf for a long time now. I met Megan amidst all the crazy book folk at BEA this year and was surprised to find her not as short as one might have expected. While the name of her blog may be misleading, however, her taste in books can be trusted. As such, here are Megan thoughts on the best books she read this year:I love reading the lists you collect because they give me a chance to reflect on what I've read this year. I feel lucky - I read a lot of great books this year, some old and some new. One of my favorites was Oracle Bones by Peter Hessler, which I was glad was nominated for the National Book Award in Non-Fiction. Hessler, who has lived in China for over ten years and speaks Mandarin fluently, writes about the changes occurring in China today. Not quite a travelogue nor a memoir, it's a cultural portrait of a rapidly changing world. What makes it so great is Hessler's ability to disappear from the narrative and paint a vivid portrait of everyone he meets and everything he sees. He shows us a big picture view with enough complexity and contradiction that we see all nuances.Another favorite this year was Eileen Chang's Love in a Fallen City, part of the NYRB Classics series. First published to great acclaim in Hong Kong in the 40s, Chang's short stories are being published in English for the first time. She writes about men, women, and the ways even the smallest actions or words can transform relationships. The cultural divide in Chinese society between ancient patriarchy and the tumultuous modernity forms the vivid background. The stories seem to be about how life never works out. They're bleak and yet you can't help but be enchanted by the characters.Other books I enjoyed this year were Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Aidichie, whose talented writing enchants this novel about the war in Biafra, and Random Family by Adrian Leblanc, who spent 10 years researching this finely written portrait of an extended family.PS I also second Mark's love for Gregoire Bouillier's Mystery Guest and Ed's love for Echo Maker, not to mention Cormac McCarthy's haunting The Road. I think I'll try to read more older stuff in 2007. It's part of my job to read the new stuff, but there's so much out there already that needs reading.Thanks Megan!

A Year in Reading: Tabula Rasa

Francois Monti runs a litblog in French - mainly about American literature - called Tabula Rasa. If I could read French, I would probably read the blog, but I can't, so I'm happily making due with Francois' contribution - in English - to our Year in Reading series:I should first point to the fairly obvious: among the books I most liked in 2006, you will find Richard Powers' The Echo Maker, Cormac McCarthy's The Road and Thomas Pynchon's Against the Day. I won't elaborate further on these books; they are already all over the literary blogs.There has been much less discussion of Roberto Bolano Los Detectives Salvajes (The Savage Dectives), which is pretty understandable: the book was published in Spanish in 1998 and is yet to be translated into English [Max: it's coming in April 2007]. However, this year saw the publication of the French translation, my mother tongue. Pure bliss! In turn coming-of-age story, roman noir, literary quest, this is a real tour de force, reminiscent of Julio Cortazar and Jack Kerouac while remaining deeply original. Bolano passed away in 2003. He was fifty years old, and I just can't help thinking about what else might have been coming from him. He was undoubtedly a unique South-American writer; dare I say the best of his generation?If we're talking older books, I've read and liked many in 2006, but none as much as The Tunnel. The contrast between the odious main character and the beauty of the prose, the music of William H. Gass' writing, make for a deeply disturbing, fascinating, and ultimately rewarding experience.Thanks Francois!

A Year in Reading: Ed Champion

Ed put in another year unchallenged as the litblog world's preeminent gadfly, offering blanket coverage of all things literary with impressive depth and ample humor. His Bat Segundo show was equally impressive, offering dozens of interviews with top authors this year. I still need to catch up, but Ed has found the time to contribute to our ongoing series:I am withholding my top ten list until the turn of the year, not because I don't find you sexy or stunning, Mr. Magee, and certainly not because I don't possess a taxonomic mind set. Rather, I object to associating one's literary compulsions with the dreaded consumerist impulses of the Xmas season. So that list will have to wait until we've all been thoroughly gorged with goose and egg nog and a few carolers have contracted laryngitis due to their relentless and cloying largesse.Thankfully, sir, you have been kind enough to confine your question to one peremptory and all-encompassing one, an absolute value that I am all too happy to answer. And I can say, without a doubt, that Richard Powers' The Echo Maker is the finest book I had the honor of reading this year. I did not ride the National Book Award bandwagon on this one. I knew this tome was the Great Book early on, well before the NBA longlist was launched. I was enchanted, lost, and entirely inveigled by Powers' deceptively simple premise: a man gets involved in an accident, suffers a rare condition called Capgras' syndrome, and cannot recognize the sister who has sacrificed her job and the many threads of her life to care for him. This sounds like a ridiculously melodramatic premise. But it is Powers' adept narrative skill that makes this scenario fundamentally real and a fundamentally poetic tapestry revealing post-9/11 transformations within America.The book, as Margaret Atwood has suggested, demands to be read twice. This book is the full realization of Powers as social novelist, an experiment he attempted before with Gain, albeit with some didacticism attached. But almost a decade wiser, Powers has given us a daring Rorschach Test that any person who cares about literature is indebted to pick up and get lost in.Thanks Ed!

A Year in Reading: Emerging Writers

The indefatigable Dan Wickett is the hardest working man in book blogging. He is a tireless advocate for "emerging" writers, small presses, and literary journals. How he found the time to compile this post for us, I'll never know, but I'm glad he did.I divided my thoughts about authors that I read in 2006 into three categories. First up would be (what else from my end) Emerging Writers. Writers that fell into that category that I can't wait to read more of would have to include:Dag Solstad - His Shyness & Dignity is not his first novel, but it is the first available in English, and it was the best book I read all year. Graywolf Press took the chance on bringing this Norwegian's work to those of us without the skills to read his books in their original language, and they should be thanked.Benjamin Percy - His debut story collection, The Language of Elk, was published by Carnegie Mellon University Press in the middle of the year and shows readers a new vision of the current west, with most of the stories set in Oregon. Percy's language crackles with masculinity and humor and the bizarre. Watch for him - he put a story in both BASS and Pushcart this year, has one coming in January's Esquire and his second collection is coming from Graywolf Press in 2007.Robert Fanning - Are you kidding me? Wickett lobbed a poet into this list? Absolutely. Fanning's The Seed Thieves is his first full length collection of poetry, thanks to Marick Press, and it is beyond just being solid. Fanning has a fantastic way about his phrasing and observations that work both on page, and if you are fortunate enough to have the opportunity to hear him read his work.Second up would be those writers who I already thought pretty highly of, that confirmed for me, once again, just how talented they were:William Gay with his novel Twilight from MacAdam/Cage. He follows up his previous two novels and short story collection with possibly his best yet. A frighteningly gothic near fairy tale about a young brother and sister combination and their efforts to expose a rather sordid mortician.Daniel Woodrell and Winter's Bone, and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie with Half of a Yellow Sun. Anybody reading this far into Max's post has probably visited my site. Enough said as I'm pretty sure searching my blog for 2006 will show these two names and titles coming up way more than anything else.Tom Franklin with Smonk. The fever Franklin had that induced this story to come oozing out must have been 104 plus.Steve Yarbrough and Ron Rash with The End of California and The World Made Straight, respectively. These two gentlemen deserve accolades for not writing with any flash, or verbal pyrotechnics, but instead delivering captivating novels, time and time again by simply telling a great story, and doing so with, while excellent writing, not the need to make you notice it.Michael Ruhlman has once again delivered a fantastic book about cooking with his The Reach of a Chef. If you have ANY interest in the art of cooking, his books are all a must. And even if you don't, you have more than half a chance at becoming enthralled anyway.Charles D'Ambrosio and Lee K. Abbott just may be the two best short story writers around and readers were fortunate enough to enjoy a new collection by D'Ambrosio (The Dead Fish Museum) and a Collected collection of Abbott (All Things, All at Once). There isn't a mis-step in either, and above and beyond that, there are probably close to a dozen stories between the two works that are prize winning, year end anthology worthy.Lastly would be those writers that I found myself embarrassed to realize I'd never read their work prior to 2006, and in many cases had not even heard of them:Colson Whitehead - I had the opportunity to see him read in Ann Arbor earlier in the year and bought a copy of The Intuitionist, which I promptly read and loved. His other three books are high up in my TBR pile.Magnus Mills - I don't know why I bought his The Restraint of Beasts - I thought I remembered his name from Jeff Bryant's Underrated Writers Project from last year, but his name is not there. Whatever the case - I loved it and the follow up novel, All Quiet on the Orient Express as well. The rest of his novels and a short story collection reside in my TBR pile at this time.Rupert Thomson - Thanks to Megan for nominating his latest, Divided Kingdom, as an LBC nominee. Another one who I immediately began looking for his backlog of many novels to pad my TBR pile.Richard Powers - Oh well, at least I waited for a decent book to hop aboard - The Echo Maker - NBA winner. Thanks to Ed Champion for inviting me to the roundtable discussion of this wonderful title. There's approximately 2100 pages of unread Powers' novels on a shelf here now.Peter Markus - Even more ridiculous when you find out he resides less than 30 minutes from my house. Went to see the aforementioned Robert Fanning read earlier this year and Markus read some unpublished work from what should be his fourth book of short fictions that deal with brothers, mud, fish, and the moon. He was kind enough to give me a copy of his first, Good, Brother, which was reprinted by Calimari Press earlier this year. I read it that night and had ordered both The Moon is a Lighthouse (from a store in Japan - the only one I could find online) and The Singing Fish (also published, last year, by Calimari Press). The man is a unique writer, an amazing writer, and one I highly recommend you try to find. Plenty of his work is available online.Thanks Dan!

National Book Award Winners Announced

The winners of the 2006 National Book Awards have been announced. A year after William T. Vollmann won the fiction award it has gone to Richard Powers for The Echo Maker (excerpt), marking a shift in focus (though perhaps not yet a "trend") toward honoring some of the names on the leading edge of American fiction. The New York Times, in its writeup, mentions that "as in recent years, the fiction category raised eyebrows in the publishing industry for its lack of commercially known nominees in a year of big-name authors," but I don't recall hearing much rumbling about the nominees. If anything, as I wrote when the nominees were announced, this year's nominees "satisfyingly occupy the sweet spot between obscurity and being, well, too obvious." And if one looks at the bodies of work of the five nominees, as well as their literary reputations, Powers was certainly deserving of this plaudit. Judging on his book alone, from what I've heard, he is a worthy winner, as well.In nonfiction, the award went to Timothy Egan for The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl (excerpt) taking on a very important topic in American history that hasn't gotten much attention from the writers of popular history. The Young People's Literature award was given to M.T. Anderson for The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Volume One: The Pox Party (excerpt), sparing us the possibility of an angry backlash against those darn graphic novels. And for Poetry, the award was given to Nathaniel Mackey for Splay Anthem (poem).

National Book Award Finalists Announced

Award season is in full swing now. The Booker was awarded yesterday, and the winner of the Nobel Prize for literature will be announced tomorrow or soon after, but today is all about the finalists for the National Book Award. As Ed remarked, in so many words, for the second year in a row, the judges have managed to deliver a crop of fiction finalists that satisfyingly occupy the sweet spot between obscurity and being, well, too obvious. On to the finalists in all categories, and, where available, excerpts from the books.Fiction:Only Revolutions by Mark Z. Danielewski - an excerpt of sortsA Disorder Peculiar to the Country by Ken Kalfus - excerptThe Echo Maker by Richard Powers - (very short) excerptEat the Document by Dana Spiotta - excerptThe Zero by Jess Walter - excerptNon-fiction:At Canaan's Edge: America in the King Years, 1965-68 by Taylor Branch - excerptImperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq's Green Zone by Rajiv Chandrasekaran - excerpt 1, 2The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl by Timothy Egan - excerptOracle Bones: A Journey Between China's Past and Present by Peter Hessler - excerptThe Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11 by Lawrence Wright - excerptPoetry:Averno by Louise Gluck - poemChromatic by H.L. HixAngle of Yaw by Ben Lerner - poemsSplay Anthem by Nathaniel Mackey - poemCapacity by James McMichael - poemYoung People's Literature:The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing: The Pox Party by M.T. Anderson - excerptKeturah and Lord Death by Martine LeavittSold by Patricia McCormick - excerptThe Rules of Survival by Nancy WerlinAmerican Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang - pages
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