Wow! The small presses are sweeping the big awards in 2010. After last spring's Pulitzer went to Tinkers, from the tiny Bellevue Literary Press, and last week's Giller Prize went to The Sentimentalists, from Nova Scotia's proudly artisan Gaspereau Press, tonight the National Book Award for Fiction was given to Jaimy Gordon for Lord of Misrule, published by McPherson & Co., of Kingston, New York, which has published Gordon since her first book, and theirs, in 1974, Shamp of the City-Solo. As I wrote about yesterday, I got a chance to read Lord of Misrule a few weeks ago (it just came out this week), and I thought it was wonderful: a gorgeous, sad, and wise story that gets under the skin of horses and horse people alike. It's going to be a lot of fun to see it find many more readers.
I'm glad I got my post up yesterday, before the bandwagon starts to get crowded. The Washington Post also just got in under the wire, with a review in today's paper by fiction's best-known horse fancier, Jane Smiley, who thinks it suffers somewhat from the blinders of the characters' narrow lives and perspectives (I think it gains some of its melancholy power from those limits), but says, "It's replete with the rhythm and wisdom of this way of looking at life, but Gordon has thought so thoroughly about her characters that each voice dips into racetrack lingo in a distinctive way. It is an impressive performance."
And I just noticed that an earlier review appeared, in a less likely literary outlet, the Daily Racing Form, a periodical that itself has a few cameos in the novel. There, one of my old heroes, longtime Post racing writer Andrew Beyer, who knows well the West Virginia tracks Gordon writes about, says, "As I read 'Lord of Misrule,' I was mesmerized by prose like this and intrigued by the accuracy with which the author captured the idiom of the racetrack, the dynamics of backstretch society and the nature of the animals – both their physiology and their personality."
Plenty of attention will be paid to Gordon's dark-horse story, but the nonfiction winner will likely get even more notice: it's Just Kids, the memoir by Rock and Roll Hall of Famer (and former bookstore clerk) Patti Smith, about her youthful friendship with Robert Mapplethorpe. It's been one of my favorite books all year, a tender and beautifully observed story of figuring out what you were put on the earth to do. (I'm looking forward to seeing the reaction of Betsy Lerner, her foul-mouthed blogging agent, tomorrow.)
Just Kids was one of our Top 10 Books of 2010, and we were also fans of tonight's winner for Young People's Literature, Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine, which was in our Top 10 books of the year for middle readers. We can claim no priority, though, for the Poetry winner, Lighthead, by Terrance Hayes, which PW, in their starred review, said included "the kinds of sly, twisting, hip, jazzy poems his fans have come to expect, but also with a new somberness of tone and mature caution." --Tom