Seven hours till midnight: Hello, 2009. I sweat and chew my pen as I rustle through my notebook, my glasses on the end of my nose. It's the annual Mad Housewife's awards (I being MH) and so much depends on it. Yes, I have at least two readers, who are waiting to hear my judgment. I’ll mix and match a little of each.
Best contemporary novel: People of the Whale by Linda Hogan. I said: Hogan's elegant, concise, and subtle style is suited to recounting Indian legends about a fishing village's relation to the sacred whale... and to depicting the violence of damaged Vietnam vets, determined to break the poetry of the legend by hunting the whale, an endangered species, and committing crimes against the environment.
Second-best contemporary novel: Netherland by Joseph O’Neill. Not reviewed here.
Best fairy tales: Dangerous Angels by Francesca Lia Block. I said: A collection of Block’s “post-punk” Weetzie Bat books are delicate “post-punk” prose poems about a creative, unconventional group of drifting L.A. characters with names like Weetzie Bat, Dirk, Duck, Cherokee, Witch Baby, and Brandy-Lynn.
Best 20th-century women’s novel: Honourable Estate by Vera Brittain. I said: In Honourable Estate, Brittain analyzes the impact of World War I on two generations of men and women. Janet, a pre-war suffragist, loathes housework and motherhood and escapes from her fanatical vicar husband to political meetings. In the next generation, Ruth, the feminist daughter of an indulgent manufacturer, graduates from Oxford, despite her family’s belief that marriage should be her 'estate.'
Best 20th-century men’s novel: The Deep Sleep by Wright Morris. I said about his work in general: "Though Morris won the National Book Award twice, one must look to small presses for his books: Bison Books (University of Nebraska Press) publishes (most of them).
Best classic: A Hazard of New Fortunes by William Dean Howell. I said: A Hazard of New Fortunes is brilliantly written... , a luminous example of the “new realism” of the late 19th century....The focus of A Hazard of New Fortunes is the inception of a literary magazine: its many employees s comprise a complete society, who are transplanted to New York to pursue “new fortunes." They come from all classes and economic strata: poor artists and writers, intellectual editors and publishers, shrewd businessmen and backers, nouveau riche, middle class, and genteel poor.
Best Classic Western: The Curlew’s Cry by Mildred Walker. I said: Mildred Walker is a powerful writer. Set in Montana, where Walker lived from 1933 to 1955, The Curlew's Cry is the story of Pam Lacy, a passionate, independent young woman whose coquettish friend woos and steals her boyfriend... Confused and on the rebound, Pam makes a hasty marriage to the son of a wealthy businessman in Buffalo who is a director of the Rocky Mountain Cattle Company. (A fifth-generation Montanan, she returns to the West alone.)
Best memoir: An Orderly Man by Dirk Bogarde. I said: Tired of the hectic life of an actor, Bogarde buys a small run-down house in France (which is the frame and organizing concept of the memoir). The house needs extensive renovation. He hires an architect to redesign the house, which the architect explains has been neglected for 500 years. While Bogarde is away finishing a film (he retires only occasionally), the architect and contractors finish the house. Everything that can go wrong does. Humorous and sensitive.
Best non-fiction: The Letters of Jessica Mitford. Not reviewed here, but Mitford fans will like it.