So now that Peter Matthiessen has won the National Book Award for Fiction for Shadow Country, will the literary world erupt into a noisy discussion about whether a “reworking” of an older trilogy should really be eligible for the award at all? I admit to a bit of skepticism myself, but the book description on Amazon goes to great pains to suggest it’s a totally different thing (except not):
Peter Matthiessenâ€™s great American epicâ€“Killing Mister Watson, Lost Manâ€™s River, and Bone by Boneâ€“was conceived as one vast mysterious novel, but because of its length it was originally broken up into three books. In this bold new rendering, Matthiessen has cut nearly a third of the overall text and collapsed the time frame while deepening the insights and motivations of his characters with brilliant rewriting throughout. In Shadow Country, he has marvelously distilled a monumental work, realizing his original vision.
So it’s a bold new rendering, but is it a new book, published for the first time this year? Does it have to be? The NBA rules simply say, “Judges consider only books written by American citizens and published in the United States between December 1 of the previous year and November 30 of the current year.” Nothing about first publication. Thus, it counts. I still can’t seem to get very excited about it, but it counts.
The other NBA winners are:
Young People’s Literature: What I Saw and How I Lied, Judy Blundell. I’d almost say this was one of the category’s dark horses; previous finalist Laurie Halse Anderson (Speak) also had historical fiction on her side, and people (myself included) really liked E. Lockhart’s The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks. I have to admit, I do love that the Booklist review quoted on Powells.com begins, “Blundell, author of Star Wars novelizations … .”
General Nonfiction: The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family, Annette Gordon-Reed. Interesting. Based simply on their titles, the two current-events books may have canceled each other out, but nothing here seemed like the standout choice based on my inexact estimation of buzz and awareness. The author had previously published a book about Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings, but with a university press; this Norton title doubtless will find a bigger audience.
Poetry: Fire to Fire: New and Collected Poems, Mark Doty. This book “collects the best of Mark Doty’s seven books of poetry, along with a generous selection of new work,” according to the publisher’s description.
For more about the whole NBA dinner spectacular, see The New York Times, whose writers doubtless had the luxury of, y’know, being there.