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Battle of the Pulitzer’s – Round 1

Home Town vs. Empire Falls

I am reading, totally by coincidence, works by two Pulitzer Prize winning authors. This is not an everyday occurrence for me, and I am pretty excited about it. An even stranger coincidence is that both stories are set in small New England towns and both take place in the same time era – within the past 50 years.

Home Town by Tracy Kidder (1999 Washington Square Press) is suggested reading for a non-fiction writing class I am taking. The instructor wants us to know what literary non-fiction looks like. Kidder won his Pulitzer in 1982 for an earlier non-fiction work, The Soul of a New Machine.

Empire Falls by Richard Russo (2001 Alfred A. Knopf) is the other book. I am reading it for my book club this month. Russo won the Pulitzer for this work of fiction.

Home Town
I am having a tough time with Home Town. This book explores real people in a real college town in western Massachusetts. Kidder introduces many characters and offers an equal number of descriptions of the town. It is not a page turner, but, by page 210, I had learned several new words.

Tabula rasa — n (Latin – a scraped tablet)
the mind in its uninformed original state or an opportunity for a fresh start; clean slate

Crepuscular — adj. (Latin crepusculum dusk, from creper dark)
of or like twilight; dim or of certain insects, birds, and other animals – active at twilight or just before dawn

Nefarious — adj. (Latin nefārius, from nefās unlawful deed)
evil, wicked, sinful

Ontogeny – n. (Greek origin)
the development or developmental history of an individual organism.

Contretemps – n. (French from contre against + temps time)
an awkward or difficult situation or mishap or in fencing, a feint made with the purpose of producing a counterthrust from one’s opponent

Empire Falls
On the other hand, I’m 100 pages further into Empire Falls and haven’t reached for a dictionary yet. I don’t need to or want to because if I don’t understand a word, I just don’t care. I am in deep with Russo’s portrayal of life in a blue-collar town in Maine.

Russo has a lighter touch with scene description and more interactive characters. No one character is very compelling individually, but the interaction between all of them is fascinating. He is a master at setting tone and pulling the reader right in.

Round 1 – Goes to Russo for “can’t wait to readability.”
Round 2 – tbd when I finish both of them.