Down to the Quarterfinals

There were some major upsets over the last week in the sports version of March Madness, causing consternation in a lot of brackets. In reviewing The Morning New Tournament of Books, we've already had a couple of upsets, too.
I think the biggest one so far would be the loss of Fates and Furies, a book that many predicted would win the whole tournament. It is not one of my favorites, but I think it's safe to say that book will be back in the tournament's Zombie round, when two selections are chosen to "rise from the dead" to compete again. We'll see those zombies storming in just before the championship match.
But this week, it's all about the quarterfinals. So it's time for Aana and I to give you our predictions for who will advance to the semifinals. I correctly predicted 7 of 9 regular-play matches, but Aana predicted 8 out of 9, so she's feeling smug.
This week, we both selected the same books to win. Let's see what we predict will happen:

Quarterfinal Match #1
The Competitors: Bats of the Republic vs. The Sympathizer
Our Pick: The Sympathizer, by Viet Thanh Nguyen
Why this one? Both of us liked both of these books, they were both creative and well written. But Bats didn't have the depth of feeling or the completeness that The Sympathizer did. The story in Bats was complex, almost too complex to understand at times. And while that makes it unique and interesting, it doesn't necessarily make it the best book in this contest. On the other side of the coin, it's the characters in The Sympathizer that are complex, reeling you in bit by bit until you're completely hooked. Like The Americans - a fabulous show on FX that just started a new season - you find yourself rooting for a protagonist who isn't entirely good, or entirely evil. So we're pulling for the Communist mole living in the US after the Vietnam War, trying to keep his identities straight while secretly sending information back to his Communist best-friend-slash-handler in Vietnam.
TOB match to be decided March 21.

Quarterfinal Match #2
The Competitors: The Turner House vs. Our Souls at Night
Our Pick: The Turner House, by Angela Flournoy
Why this one? This was a close one for us. Our Souls is a sweet book about two elderly neighbors who decide to go against convention to create their own way to find comfort together. Turner House is more like their boisterous neighbors, a big family that scraps and loves at top volume while trying to decide what to do about their mom and their family house. Ghosts, literal and figurative, are stirred up as they work through their past and present squabbles. And maybe that's part of the charm, that they are more alive somehow in their book, or maybe Our Souls is just a bit too quiet (Aana found Our Souls to be bland). We give Turner House the slight edge, but we also realize that Our Souls has steam in this tournament and could be the judges' choice.
TOB match to be decided March 22.

Quarterfinal Match #3
The Competitors: A Little Life vs. The Tsar of Love and Techno
Our Pick: The Tsar of Love and Techno, by Anthony Marra
Why this one? Another very close call, at least for Cheminne. She was in love with A Little Life, which was meant to be an allegory, but was for her just a distracting, disturbing, and terrific read. However, Tsar was even better - and for both of our judges was one of the most beautifully crafted books we've read in a long time. Although it's listed as a book of short stories, they are each intertwined and linked in such a way that it's more like a novel that moves seamlessly between characters and decades without losing its emotional grip on the reader. The setting is Russia, from the Soviet era to modern-day Chechnya, with politics the center of some stories, and character actors in others. But it's the writing that stands out, with sentences woven together like a tapestry of rough and soft threads: lyrical, painful, and tightly bound. This is one of our picks to go all the way.
TOB match to be decided March 23.

Quarterfinal Match #4
The Competitors: A Spool of Blue Thread vs. The Sellout
Our Pick: The Sellout, by Paul Beatty
Why this one? What an interesting matchup, or mis-matchup, to be honest. Spool is a lovely book, written by the amazing Anne Tyler who is at her best here. It's an ordinary story about ordinary people, but brought to life with Tyler's gift for spinning a tale. The Sellout, on the other hand, is a swaggering satire, strutting out all loud and proud to deal knock-out punches left and right. The key here is that The Sellout is clever and wry, with a topic that stabs a fork into one of society's rawest nerves. It's brave, bold, and hilarious, so it's our pick in this match.
TOB match to be decided March 24.

No comments:

Post a Comment