WHAT THE HELL

Kevin Brennan Writes About What It's Like

Donna Tartt to Francine Prose: “Suck a lemon, babe.”

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Well, in another episode that demonstrates that we’re living in a programmed simulation from the future, Donna Tartt has won the Pulitzer Prize in fiction this year. You’ll probably recall that Francine Prose tore her a new one over the quality-control issues in her now officially lauded book, The Goldfinch, but in this simulated reality that’s just the kind of thing that comes back to haunt with nauseating irony.

Since I haven’t read The Goldfinch, I can’t comment directly on its merits. However, I did read a book last year that I thought had a decent chance at the Pulitzer and would have made a great choice: The Flamethrowers, by Rachel Kushner.

Better luck next time, Rache. And Francine? I feel your pain.

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15 comments on “Donna Tartt to Francine Prose: “Suck a lemon, babe.”

  1. 1WriteWay
    April 15, 2014

    Maybe the prize was for length.
    I read Prose’s criticism of Tartt’s book. Prose is probably rolling her eyes over this. I haven’t read The Goldfinch either because every time I pick it up at my local B&N and peruse the pages, I get bored. Obviously, Tartt doesn’t need me to like her book.

    • Kevin Brennan
      April 15, 2014

      I just heard a talking head on TV announce the Pulitzer, declaring The Goldfinch “a fantastic book!”.

      I guess this is how the hype machine works, eh?

      • 1WriteWay
        April 15, 2014

        Seems that way. And they are talking about one book, it’s impossible for anyone else to be heard.

  2. John W. Howell
    April 15, 2014

    Always amazing what falls through the screen. Prose tried to sift it out but the Goldfinch still made it.

    • Kevin Brennan
      April 15, 2014

      Sometimes some pretty chunky stuff gets through that net!

  3. ericjbaker
    April 15, 2014

    I’m taking the next one. Screw them other two jerks!

  4. Claire 'Word by Word'
    April 15, 2014

    Definitely keen to read The Flamethrowers and The Goldfinch will have to wait until summer, the time of year when I read purely for entertainment and little scrutiny. always interesting to watch a literary critic battle play itself out.

    • Kevin Brennan
      April 15, 2014

      And there’s nothing wrong with “entertainment” literature. But does it have to win the country’s top prize? Sheesh.

      Thanks for popping in and commenting!

  5. mojomojoman
    April 15, 2014

    I read both the novel and the review. In my opinion, the first third of the novel was totally engaging, the second third got by on momentum, the last third was solipsistic, tedious rumination. Boris was way more interesting than Theo. If I recall correctly, Ms. Prose took the author to the woodshed mainly for failures of craft and a sea of senseless metaphors. True enough, but had the motion and energy of the beginning been carried through to the end they would have swung it for me. In any event, how could this book NOT have won, having featured a terrorist attack at the Met, denizens of Park Avenue brought low, crime and intrigue in the New York antiques scene, and, to top it all off, the timely exhibit of Fabritius’s actual painting at the Frick? You can’t buy better positioning than that.

    • Kevin Brennan
      April 15, 2014

      Easy to by cynical, ain’t it?

      Thanks for the thoughtful comment!

      • mojomojoman
        April 16, 2014

        Cynical? Maybe. But when it comes to that book, the whirring and clanking of the publishing machinery is just deafening.

  6. seasealya
    June 22, 2015

    I read this on my Kindle. Hated it. Decided to give it a try in real book format. I was right the first time. Look, if you do a first person narrator great! After all, it is the thing these days isn’t it? But please if your first person narrator is supposed to be a 13 year old boy at the start of your story, please do not make him think or know things that no 13 year old boy would know. Yeah, I get he is growing in Manhattan so perhaps more worldly than your 13 year old boy growing up in Huntington but still. At one point he thinks that something looks like something out of “that famous French movie” – what famous French movie?? That a 13 year old boy would know? We have no indication that he has an Asperger-like affliction where his thing became knowing everything there was about French movies. There are way too many instances of this. Not just her failure to actually make Theo a living, breathing person in his own right (rather than Donna Tartttt in teenage boy drag) but oh so many details wrong and incoherent story. Don’t forget lists, many lists, of things, things on lists, of thing. How this won the Pulitzer baffles me.

    I actually didn’t finish the hard copy I was reading – left it in a hotel room in Reykjavik. Maybe some Icelander will get something out of it. Doubt they have a rich literary tradition themselves.

    By the way, I think the Famous French Movie might be Last Year at Marienbad – got that from my thirteen year old nephew 😉

    • Kevin Brennan
      June 22, 2015

      Great points, seasealya, and it all adds up to Tartt more or less phoning this one in. The kinds of problems I hear about in this book are common in student writing and should have been taken care of with good editing.

      I agree too that first-person narration is overused, probably because it seems easier than third-person. But it’s a tricky thing and a lot of writers don’t bother with its subtleties. Coupled with present tense, it’s especially fraught!

      By the way, I think “Reading The Goldfinch In Reykjavik” sounds like a book I’d like to read! Get started on it!

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