New American Fiction, Swamplandia!, & the 2012 non-Pulitzer

“St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves,”  by Karen Russell, was one my favorite stories I discovered in college. I first encountered it in the The Anchor Book of New American Short Stories, edited by Ben Marcus. If I recall, there was also a stellar Wells Tower story in there: “Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned.” And how could I forget Padgett Powell’s “Scarletti and the Sinkhole”? This collection very much shaped my taste, in that it was the first story anthology I’d read where I loved the majority of the stories chosen by the editor. I sought out additional works by several of these authors.

However, it was only in the last month that I stumbled across the hardback story collection St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves, at my public library. Then, I got an email that let me know it was finally my turn to check out Swamplandia!, Russell’s 2011 novel, which was also a NYT Best Book of the Year. I think my name had been in that library queue for over a year.

You may recall the minor frenzy resulting from Karen Russell, Denis Johnson, and David Foster Wallace being snubbed by the Pulitzer board. The New Yorker published a letter from the Pulitzer jury explaining what happened.

I had to return both Russell books in three weeks, as others had requested them. Swamplandia! picked up quickly, and I couldn’t put it down. What was wonderful was being immersed in this absolutely bizarre, yet real, world of the Ten Thousand Islands. I say, go read it–at the very least, put it on your summer reading list.

I wonder if that fact that the novel is told from an adolescent perspective held it back–if the characters were not teenagers, but adults, would it have appealed more to the Pulitzer judges? Obviously, the story cannot exist in any other context, with different main characters, but I’ve thought about this: Why do some adults have such an aversion to reading fiction that is in a teenage or adolescent perspective? Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think that’s the case for some readers. What assumptions do these readers make? Are they, in some ways, correct?

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