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Thursday, September 20, 2007

Book Review: Winner of the National Book Award -- Clever, Witty, Slight

Jincy Willett: Hyperbolous Titler

Jincy Willett's Winner of the National Book Award comes with that attention-grabbing title built-in. One of the Barnes and Noble readers reviews begins thusly: "I needed a book to read on a train ride, so when I read 'Winner of the National Book Award' on the cover of this book, I hastily grabbed it, trusting that it would be a good read. It wasn't until later that I realized that this is the *name* of the book, and that no such accolades have been (or will be) awarded to this novel." The reader goes on to castigate the book, which really is a lot of fun before a somewhat dour last quarter. Willett has a gift for character description and much of what she writes is quite funny coming as it does from the voice of the book's narrator, Dorcas Mather. Dorcas is a reserved caustic Rhode Island librarian fated to share life with her outgoing voluptuous twin Abigail. Abigail is the subject of a poorly written tell-all which crosses Dorcas' library transom. "Winner of the National Book Award" is Dorcas' rebuttal to what she feels is an offensive intrusion into her life, partly at the hands of her sister. In some since Willett doesn't seem to take this far enough. There is the merest hint that Dorcas's may be whitewashing her own role in the events a tad but this is never really played up as much as it could be. Bits of information, like the daughter the sisters contrive to raise together, are released in a rather arbitrary way that is undoubtedly purposeful but frustrating. The book winds up with an ending that is inevitable but not nearly interesting enough to warrant some of the very funny and well-drawn scenes that occur earlier on, such as a barroom wedding reception marred by a grieving priest. There is plenty of well-observed humor at the expense of the book world, with authors pompous and popular and their readers all coming in for the skewer. Overall this is an enjoyable read but I suspect Willett has something even loftier and just as funny raring to get out.

Winner of the National Book Award garners 3 out of 5 trophies:

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