Phil Klay won the National Book Award for Fiction a week or so ago for his debut collection of short stories about the Iraq War, Redeployment. (Also nominated for the award were Tony Doerr for All the Light We Cannot See and Emily St. John Mandel for Station Eleven. Worthy competition, to say the least.) I mention this because – completely coincidentally – after many months hiatus, a week before the awards, I picked Klay’s book back up again to read the last two stories. I do this a lot – read 3/4 of a collection of stories and drift away, my bookmark in a perpetual state of holding place. But there was something about Redeployment that drew me back. I’ve been thinking about the Catapult Notable list for this year, since ’tis the season, of course, and there had definitely been something about that book that stuck with me, even if I hadn’t loved – like, LOVED-loved – every story in it. There were two stories in particular, however, that made this, well, National Book Award-worthy in my book. The title story that opens the collection and one called “Unless It’s a Sucking Chest Wound.” The “Redeployment” story is about a soldier who has returned home after a tour and really struggles with the day-to-day of civilian life. There is a bit of dog death in this one, but it’s all very poignant and powerful. “Sucking Chest Wound” is similarly themed – the narrator spent two deployments writing accommodations and filing paperwork on behalf of other Marines and returned home to a cushy 6 figure job, laden with guilt. In an interview with BOMB magazine, Klay said this character “doesn’t feel he has a right to speak because his story is actually the story of everybody he knew.”
Anyhow, a great book – and most definitely deserving of award bestowal. More on this collection when the Notable list takes shape.
Also at the NBA party, Ursula K. le Guin received a well-deserved medal from the National Book Award foundation for her “Distinguished Contribution to American Letters.” During her speech, she had this badass thing to say:
Books aren’t just commodities; the profit motive is often in conflict with the aims of art. We live in capitalism, its power seems inescapable – but then, so did the divine right of kings. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings. Resistance and change often begin in art. Very often in our art, the art of words. I’ve had a long career as a writer, and a good one, in good company. Here at the end of it, I don’t want to watch American literature get sold down the river. We who live by writing and publishing want and should demand our fair share of the proceeds; but the name of our beautiful reward isn’t profit. Its name is freedom.
Ursula, I bow down at your feet, madam.
So, it’s looking like the “Year of Reading” experiment is sort of at an end here, if I’m completely honest with myself. The Notable list is peeking over the horizon, so any and all energy I devote to the Catapult at this point in the year will be towards that. I’m sure you understand. The list should be up within a fortnight.