As I have mentioned previously, I am geekily excited for The 2011 Tournament of Books by The Morning News. This week, the tourney starts. I have proudly read eight (plus part of a ninth) of the sixteen books in the tournment. These include the six I listed here plus Bad Marie (which I reviewed here) and Bloodroot. I am currently in the middle of reading Skippy Dies.
Looking over the brackets, I really cannot predict which book might win the overall competition. There is still too much I haven’t read in order to make an educated guess. However, there are two Opening Round lineups in which I’ve read both the books competing against one another: March 9, which is Room versus Bad Marie, and March 17, which is The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake versus Bloodroot. I’ll also throw in March 11, which is A Visit From the Good Squad versus Skippy Dies (25% completed as of this writing). I will hazard predictions on these pairs.
3/9: Room versus Bad Marie
This is a tough one. Both of these books feature young children: Jack, the young boy who narrates Room, and Caitlin, the young girl Marie cares for in Bad Marie. Both novels are also about women making the best of bad situations: the mother in Room, who creates a rich life for her small child in the confines of one small room in which they are imprisoned; and Marie, who has spent time in prison and now, without many options, has found herself in a dead end job as a nanny for her wealthy and successful childhood friend. The similarities end there. The mother in Room is a highly sympathetic character, having demonstated ingenuity and courage in the face of a terrible situation. Marie is not at all sympathetic, having made numerous poor choices in her life, but she never fails to be interesting. The choice between these two books is difficult for me because Bad Marie happens to come across as a bit more sophisticated, with its European adventures and sexual exploits; but the voice in Room comes across as much more unique, given that the narrator is just a five year old boy, and yet we are totally captivated with his story. Though it is close, I choose Room as the winner due to the distinctive narration, and for Donoghue’s skill in capturing Jack’s voice.
3/11: A Visit From the Goon Squad versus Skippy Dies
I have professed my love for A Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan, and I would love for it to win the tournament. However, it has some stiff competition from Skippy Dies. Though I haven’t finished the book, I am thoroughly enjoying it thus far. It is smart and sharp, shifts voices in between chapters with authenticity and ease, and has left me wanting to read more to find out what’s troubling Skippy. It does, however, have its faults. I’m finding it a bit macho (which makes sense, since it takes place at a testosterone-charged all-boys school), and I drift off a bit when Ruprecht is going on about his various theories of the universe. Otherwise, I believe this is going to be another close one, and is really going to depend on the tastes of the judge. However, were I judging, I would pick Goon Squad. Nonetheless, I would be happy to see either of these books reemerge in the Zombie round.
3/17: The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake versus Bloodroot
This is an easy choice for me. The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake was not a favorite of mine. It was perfectly fine, but as I have mentioned before, I just didn’t fall for its magical realism. I recently finished Bloodroot, and I certainly enjoyed it more than Lemon Cake. Bloodroot also utilized mystical powers (sort of healing powers/mountain mama/herbs and magick/family curses type of stuff), but you didn’t have to fall for them in order to enjoy the book. The novel was grounded in the gritty everyday lives of an Appalachian family over the generations, told from different perspectives of various family members and friends, young and old. I like that Bloodroot seems a bit different than the other books in the tournament: it is a domestic drama, it doesn’t really delve into politics, doesn’t really have a message, it is a rural novel, and it is woman centered. I wouldn’t go so far as to say it should win the tournament, but I do hope Bloodroot prevails in this round.
I will be watching over the next month to see which book wins, and perhaps I’ll chime in here from time to time to comment on the tournament. In the meantime, I’ll be trying to finish Skippy Dies.