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We review the three Pulitzer fiction finalists - and pick our own winner

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Denis Johnson

128 pages

(Farrar, Straus

and Giroux)

To my mind, Denis Johnson's best work is in the short form (see: his totally brilliant, near-flawless short-story collection Jesus' Son) and this is, uh, a return to form. Train Dreams is a novella that, like Jesus' Son, turns ordinary Joes into mythical representations of Americanness. Spanning the life of one Robert Grainier, born at the end of the 19th century, the 128 pages manage to capture the (literal) building of the nation. Perhaps shunned by the Pulitzer board for its brevity, or for the fact that it was originally published in the Summer 2002 issue of The Paris Review.


Karen Russell

336 pages

(Alfred A. Knopf)

Miami native Karen Russell's debut novel, set in a foundering Everglades alligator attraction, celebrates Florida in all its beauty and weirdness (especially the weirdness) with a darkly comic surreality reminiscent of George Saunders or Donald Barthelme.

Russell has been included on best writers lists including the New Yorker's “20 Under 40” and the National Book Foundation's “5 Under 35”; both her first book (the short story collection St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves) and Swamplandia! garnered universally gushing reviews. I can't imagine why this book didn't easily win - I choose not to assume that youth or gender played into the board's decision - but, in the absence of their good sense, I crown Swamplandia! the winner. Wouldn't it be a great thing if the great summer novel of 2012, the one everyone was reading, gave America a view of Florida that featured something besides corrupt, cruel politicians and woefully lax gun laws?

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