The News from Paraguay by Lily Tuck. (The title says it all.)
At a chain bookstore I read the first few chapters of the Lily Tuck novel which won the recent National Book Award in the Fiction category. I also read a couple of the stories in a recent short story collection of hers.
Some might think a novel about upper-class people in Paraguay in the 19th century says nothing about THIS nation today at the end of 2004. They would think wrong. Lily Tuck's novel says a great deal about the upper-class insularity of a literary establishment that would hand the book its highest award.
Lily Tuck exemplifies the literary blueblood. I suspect this is the reason she received the award. It can't be because of her lethargic book, which reads like letters posted among diary entries about people the reader is given no reason to care about. The Lily Tuck prose style is to relate things-- an endless relating of trivial facts and occurrences; like an overlong Christmas card relating the boring history of everything done over the past year. The things she describes vanish from memory the instant one reads about them. I could find little thread or life force holding the narrative together. Presumably one appears if the reader sticks with the book long enough. After three chapters I no longer cared to.
Was Tuck a protege of fellow globe-trotting blueblood George Plimpton? (Lead awards judge blueblood Rick Moody was.) I read the story in Tuck's collection which had originally been published in the Paris Review. (Note Steve Kostecke's Monday Report at www.literaryrevolution.com on the journal-- hyperbolically paraphrasing me a bit.) The story is the relating of a brief encounter between three rich people, one supposedly a famous author. The "story" doesn't rise even to the level of a good anecdote, as there's nothing funny or dramatic or insightful about it. (The famous writer, male, accidentally glimpses the blonde bush of the blonde female character, and afterward at dinner makes a vague reference to it. The blonde character is unable to come up with a response-- but later thinks of one, in French. That's it. Believe me, it's worse than it sounds. Very rarefied. Her expression of conflict. Methinks Ms. Tuck doesn't live a very challenging life.)
Anyone want to guess the odds that Lily Tuck's story was discovered in the Paris Review slush pile?