The National Book Awards name five worthy finalists - but ignore "Gone Girl" and 2012's top crime, sci-fi and fantasy - By Laura Miller - Salon
The five finalists for the 2012 National Book Award for fiction make for an exemplary shortlist — and I say that even though none of them is likely to end up on my own best-of list at the end of the year.
There’s a good variety: a popular short-story collection by the recent MacArthur recipient Junot Diaz (“This is How You Lose Her”), a debut novel about the Iraq War (“Yellow Birds” by Kevin Powers), a small-press title (Dave Eggers’ “A Hologram for the King”), an overlooked midlist book (Ben Fountain’s “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk”), even the 14th novel by an established writer, Louise Erdrich’s “The Round House” — precisely the sort of title people don’t bother to read because they assume they already know what’s in it.
What you won’t find, however, is the book that many, many literary fiction buffs read and loved in the past six months: Gillian Flynn’s best-selling crime novel, “Gone Girl.” Flynn’s book is inventive, shrewd, mercilessly observant and stylishly written — qualities that are very welcome and likely to be celebrated in a literary novel. Her theme, the dissolution of a marriage in recession-era America, is substantive. Her technique (which, at the risk of spoilage, I’ll vaguely refer to as unreliable narration) is sophisticated. But let’s face it: “Gone Girl” is still considered a crime novel, and the likelihood of any work of genre fiction being seriously considered for a major literary prize still seems as far-fetched in 2012 as the election of a black president looked to be in the 20th century.
The National Book Awards is no more to blame in this respect than any other prize: The Pulitzer, the Booker and the National Book Critics Circle prizes have all refrained from honoring any title published within the major genres. (True, some observers considered “Snowdrops” by A.D. Miller — shortlisted for the Booker last year — a crime novel, but the entire 2011 Booker selection process was enveloped in controversy arising from the judges’ much-denounced remarks on behalf of “readability.”) The genres have their own prizes, but the most prestigious of the awards remain the private reserve of literary fiction.