The TOB is just as awesome as I was hoping. I love reading the decisions, but probably the bickering back and forth with other readers is my favorite part.
One of the things that I'm noticing as I write about the books is that *almost all of them* have what I would consider failed, or at least highly problematic endings. Why can't authors pull off the satisfyingly good ending anymore?
State of Wonder vs. The Sisters Brothers
Now this is an interesting match-up and feels like the closest call of the TOB. Although I didn't expect to like either of these books, I was pleasantly surprised by both of them. State of Wonder is well-plotted and fast-paced. Marina is a doctor and scientist working for a pharmaceutical company in Minnesota. She is instructed by her boss and lover (Ridiculously, she refers to him as Mr. Fox. It's silly.) to travel to the company's research station in the Amazon to discover two things: the truth about the death of colleague, and the progress being made on a miracle fertility drug.
What the book does well is explore just how perilous this place is for Marina. She must find her old mentor and professor, Dr. Annick Swenson. Dr. Swenson was Marina's attending physician the night a c-section went horribly wrong, and Marina is wary of seeing her again. The strangeness only escalates when Marina arrives at the research station and starts to understand the complicated medical trials and amazing rituals of the local villagers.
State of Wonder is very much about Western medicine vs. native ways of life. It was compelling without being too "preachy." Don't get me wrong, the whole book is some ways feels like an argument against Western idealism in the face of the world's realities. The plot gets tied up a little too neatly if you ask me, but there were at least a few lingering questions (although those seem so heavily hinted/foreshadowed that they don't seem all that mysterious). Although it's a good story and a solid read, I wouldn't call it revelatory. Nothing truly surprised or delighted me, but does that matter? Sometimes I'm just grateful for a "good read" and State of Wonder definitely qualified.
But it's once they find Warm and figure out what he's up to, pledging to help him rather than kill him that I found myself truly interested. In other words, it got better. It was sort of a weird ending, and I'm perhaps thinking it was a dream? Or an afterlife? But overall I enjoyed it. Also, this is one of the books that I never would have picked it up on my own had it not been in the TOB. Finally, I thought it had a fantastic cover.
Either way, now that I've written about it at length: I think State of Wonder should--and will--advance.
vs. The Cat’s Table
I hated Swamplandia!, so I'm hoping The Cat's Table will advance. I'm going to try and read it before the match up on Thursday. It could happen. Although the only other book I've read by Ondaatje is The English Patient, a book I loved but that was also a "slow" read for me.
The Marriage Plot vs. Green Girl
Look, it's going to shock the hell out of me and everyone else if The Marriage Plot doesn't win handily here. Whatever its weaknesses, The Marriage Plot is a solidly good novel with a lot going for it. Green Girl wasn't bad, it just wasn't really a novel, and felt more experimental than anything else. And for me personally, there just weren't a lot of entry points to lure me in. It was almost perfectly designed to repel me, as a matter of fact. Wishy-washy and weak female characters just aren't my thing. I guess if they were, I'd be a Republican. Heh.
Looking back, there's one observation about Green Girl that I keep puzzling over. As previously discussed, it has the trendy-no-quotation-mark thing going on with it's dialogue. But, EVERY SINGLE CHAPTER of that book, and some are only a page or two long, is prefaced with an epigraph. That is, a lengthy QUOTE from someone else that sets the mood for that chapter. Honestly, I don't usually read epigraphs all that carefully, but I found myself doing so with Green Girl. If it weren't for those quotes, I'm not sure I would have understood what the author was going for. It was sort of weird, actually, why let another author horn in and state your themes more clearly than you can? I'm sure it's just some sort of clever way to show us, once again, that the main character doesn't have a real self, and is a construct of her surroundings, yada, yada. It doesn't work, though. Propping up Green Girl with all those other authors just made it seem like it didn't have much to say on its own.
Also, as a general rule, let's just agree RIGHT NOW that any ending that has someone joining in a Hare Krishna parade is not going to work. Jeez, I found Madeline's "do-over" ending more believable. And I thought that ending was ridiculous.
The Art of Fielding vs. Open City
I wrote about Open City earlier this year. Like 1Q84, it's pretty plotless, but it was also a lot more compact and I enjoyed it. I didn't like the ending, but I'm quite curious to see the commentary on the book. I think it bears some discussion. Either way, you're probably sensing a theme, here, with the bad endings. I'm going to try to get to The Art of Fielding next weekend if I can. This feels like a crowd pleaser and everyone loves it, so I'm going to predict that it beats Open City. Plus, I think the judge of this match is a sports writer. I don't want to judge the judges, but hard to believe a beloved novel about baseball wouldn't be more appealing that a guy wandering around thinking about his life. Also, on sheer principle, I refuse to vote for books without quotation marks.
Whew! Let's see how I do!