First off, it came out in January of last year. Second, it was published as a trade paperback. Third it was brought by Bellevue Literary Press and the last time a small press published a Pulitzer-winner was 1981 when the prize went to A Confederacy of Dunces published by Louisiana State University Press.
But here’s the thing about the book… it’s wonderful. It really is.
“George Washington Crosby began to hallucinate eight days before he died,” Harding starts the book, a poignant, beautiful book that, at its face, is about a man facing death who confronts that time by focusing on his father, an epileptic peddler who died decades before.
But it’s really so much more — a story about where we go when there’s nowhere left to go — crafted beautifully, built word by word, sentence by sentence, cascading over you, a waterfall of scenes, characters and emotions.
“Nearly seventy years before George died, his father, Howard Aaron Crosby, drove a wagon for his living. It was a wooden wagon. It was a chest of drawers mounted on two axles and wooden spoked wheels. There were dozens of drawers, each fitted with a recessed brass ring, pulled open with a hooked forefinger, that contained brushes and wood oil, tooth powder and nylon stockings, shaving soap and straight-edge razors.”
It just keeps building, moving, you don’t want to put it down and find yourself re-reading sentences, paragraphs because they are just a pleasure.
But don’t take my word for it.
You can’t really blame the NY Times. As Carole Goldberg wrote in the Hartford Courant:
“A book by an unknown author, from a new and nearly unknown press, lands on a reviewer’s desk. What are the chances it will command her attention? Or turn out to be a beautifully written meditation on life, death, the passage of time and man’s eternal attempt to harness it?”
Needless to say, Goldberg did pick it up, saying it “defies expectations and proves to be one of 2009’s most intriguing debuts.”
Maybe what’s really great about Harding win the Pulitzer is the affirmation it gives to the small press. Bellevue is a tiny press, around only since 2005, that’s affiliated with the famed hospital. of all things.
People all over are writing great fiction, people want to publish it and, clearly, people want to read it.
Thanks to the University of Iowa, you can hear Harding read from the novel here.
Listen. And then go buy it.
Congratulations to Harding and Bellevue.