Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Any Many Convincing Voices

After reading Great House by Nicole Krauss, I could not imagine how it missed out on winning the 2010 National Book Award.  The award went to Lord of Misrule by Jaimy Gordon, which didn't even make the NYT Notable Books list.  I added Lord of Misrule to my TBR list, confident that I would be berating the judges after I read it.  After reading, I have no such complaints.

Lord of Misrule is the story of a race track, set vaguely in the early 1970s, and the characters who inhabit it.  The book is divided into parts named after horses, but the horses serve primarily to unite the people who care for them and bet against them.  It is the development of these characters that won Gordon her prize. 

In reading Lord, I couldn't stop myself from comparing it to Great House.  Oddly, both books are divided into four parts.  Lord has its four separate stories involving most of the same characters in each, while Great House  has four stories with characters who may or may not overlap and are united by a desk.  Additionally, both books touch on complicated relationships within Jewish families.  But more than Great House, Lord reminded me of The Help by Kathryn Stockett.

Gordon's best character voice is that of Medicine Ed, who is an older black man who has lived around race tracks for most of his life.  Medicine Ed speaks of "any many" colored hair, and can't just use the word "but" as a conjunction, using instead "yet and still".  His voice is enthralling and true, like that of Aibileen in The Help.  It is interesting that both Kathryn Stockett and Jaimy Gordon, who find these great African American voices, are themselves white.  It would have been taboo, or at least disrespectful, for a white person to purport to be able to speak for such a character not so many years ago, yet Stockett and Gordon both were rewarded with popular and critical success.  Let's hope this is a sign of a more color blind or blended world to come.

I, personally, preferred Great House, but I am so biased toward Nicole Krauss and Jonathan Safran Foer that my opinion should be read more like an article in People than in Consumer Reports.  My friends who generally like the same types of books that I like were not impressed by Great House, and didn't quite understand my strong endorsement.  My hunch is that they would agree with the National Book Award judges, and give the award to Lord of Misrule.

Next Up on CD:  Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson

Still reading:  Swan Thieves by Elizabeth Kostova.  I am reading this book at a pace of about 50 pages a day!  The cultural references make the book feel like it was written just for me.  The story starts off a week after the Columbine shooting, progresses to focus on the Impressionist painters, with special mention of Luncheon of the Boating Party and Mary Cassatt, and has a character reading Thackeray.  What more could I want?

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