Well, friends, here we are. The 2013 Tournament of Books brackets have been released and things get rocking and rolling on Monday.
That means I’m just under the wire with the odds here.
Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
It has all the makings: built-in fan base, critical praise, and a literary+genre combo that has ruled The Rooster of late (Oscar Wao, The Road, The Sister Brothers, etc). Most likely to earn a Zombie resurrection as well, so you’re gonna have to knock Flynn out twice to knock her out for good.
Group 2: Serious Contenders
The Round House by Louise Erdrich
Erdrich layers a little mystery onto her now-expected brilliance with place and character. Where Gone Girl reads like genre with a side of lit fic, The Round House is lit fic with a side of genre. Does it have enough personality to win? I think probably not, but it gets so much right that it is going to be a tough out.
Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain
Fresh off yesterday’s NBCC award, Billy Lynn seems to be the gamest of the war novel trio here. It seems to have the most ardent fans of the war novel trio that is competing in the opening round.
Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel
By many accounts, Bring Up the Bodies is better than Rooster winner Wolf Hall. Cromwell-fatigue hasn’t slowed Bring Up the Bodies from collecting all sorts of awards, but will ToB judges feel the same? Doesn’t really feel like Bring Up the Bodies is going to make a run to the finals, but, as with her cunning protagonist, you’d be a fool to count her out.
Group 3: Puncher’s Chance
The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
If this were a competition to see which book has the most passionate fans, TFIOS would win running away. And we’ve seen that strong narrative voice can carry this thing (see The Sister Brothers last year). But I think the precociousness of the kids here is going to cross over into preciousness for at least one of these more literarily-minded judges. I would actually have placed it in Group 2 had its first-round pairing been different (see the match-up comments below).
You want voice? We got voice. You want meta-fiction? We got that. How about a compelling plot? Yes, sir. This one does a lot of things well, but the concern is always the “too clever by half” charge that goes with these hall-of-mirrors kinds of books.
Group 4: Happy to Be Here
Arcadia by Lauren Groff, Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter, Dear Life by Alice Munro, Fobbit by David Abrams, May We Be Forgiven by A.M. Homes, The Orpan Master’s Son by Adam Johson, Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller, Where’d You Go Bernadette by Maria Semple, The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers
The books in this group are very good, very worthy selections, but damned if I can make a case that they stand out from the field in any meaningful way. They are unlikely to piss off a judge, but neither are they likely to beat, in succession, multiple titles from Groups 1-3. Read them and you won’t be sorry. Bet on them and you probably will.
Group 5: No Shot
Building Stories by Chris Ware
I really like this…..whatever it is. But I can’t write that last sentence about your…..whatever….and give it a chance to do much here. A judge or two might love it, but at some point someone is going to say “Um…this isn’t a book.”
Ivyland by Myles Klee
The only real misstep in the selections here. Moving on.
How Should a Person Be? by Sheila Heti
Folks either seem to love or hate this book, and just from a statistical standpoint that doesn’t bode well. There’s also no precedent for a non-fictionish/memoirish book to win this thing, and making odds is all about percentages.
Round 1 Match-Ups
Group 1: Pencil It In
Gone Girl over Ivyland.
Group 2: Upsets That Won’t Really Be Surprises
The Round House over The Fault in Our Stars.
Building Stories over Dear Life.
Group 3: Most Interesting
HHhH versus Bring Up the Bodies
Group 4: Coin Flips
The Orphan Master’s Son versus Where’d You Go Bernadette?
Arcadia versus Song of Achilles.
Alright then. More commentary as the Tournament progresses. Enjoy the show, folks. I know I will.