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The Morning News Tournament of Books, sponsored by Powell’s Books, is an annual battle royale amongst the top novels in “literary fiction” published throughout the year. Read more about this year’s tournament »

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March 28, 2007

The Road


Against the Day


About 300 pages into Thomas Pynchon’s Against the Day—you know, right around when it’s starting to make sense—I got the flu. It began in the morning with the aches, then the fever set in pretty quickly, and I was under the blankets by afternoon. The timing really couldn’t have been better. I, like the judges before me, dreaded this 1,100-page monster. I cheered when it was knocked out in the semifinals; I groaned when it climbed out of its grave for the Zombie Round; then it chomped me in the arm and gave me some kind of bacteria. And with that bacteria came lots of time to do nothing but read.

I continued through the book, though I confess to passing out a number of times—I cannot guarantee I was always able to find exactly where I’d left off when I came to.

Things got blurry. The book’s details jumbled in my mind, and Pynchon’s many characters’ many tangents crossed me up. Deciding Against the Day was not getting its due from me right then, I set it aside for The Road.

• •

The fever faded in and out. I still felt like death, and the tone of The Road could not have matched more perfectly. I am a sucker for apocalypse tales, and to Maria Schneider’s quip that The Road could have been directed by Steven Spielberg, I’d like to add: “And starring Charlton Heston.” Except if the mutants from Omega Man were trying to eat the other survivors—or worse. There’s hardly anything cheesy about The Road—sorry Charlton, but this isn’t Soylent Green—it’s more along the lines of 28 Days Later or Children of Men. (And to continue that line of thinking, Against the Day is more like Wild Wild West. Seriously.)

I finished The Road. And as my condition improved I returned to Pynchon’s tome, which I’d been using as an ottoman while recuperating. As much as I tried to get back into the book—or into it at all—The Road stuck with me. Even healthy, I couldn’t pay attention to Against the Day. It felt pointless, wasteful, fictional (if that can be used pejoratively here). I could think of so many better things to do than read Against the Day. Instead, I wanted to re-read The Road. (And I since have.) I wanted to find out more about the dangers of pollution and global warming. I wanted to hold my loved ones close.

McCarthy’s vision of a wasteland goes beyond anything I’ve ever read or seen, and is so conceptually possible as to be nothing less than chilling. With an economy of words, McCarthy travels an astounding distance; yet with nearly five times the content, Pynchon accomplishes monumentally less.

• Today’s WINNER •

The Road

• About the Judge •

TMN Founding Editor Andrew Womack lives in Park Slope, Brooklyn. He has no connections to any of this year’s authors.

• From the Booth •

Wouldn’t it be great if the Pulitzer committee would come out and say, “We almost gave the award to Pynchon, but one of our judges had the flu and just couldn’t deal with him this week.” Kevin John I had my own recent bout with this plague and couldn’t manage to read the dosage guidelines on the Tylenol PM—resulting in a three-day coma—let alone a thousand-page novel.
» Read Kevin Guilfoile & John Warner’s commentary on the match «

• The Peanut Gallery •

Do you agree with the outcome of this match?

absolutely   no way

The Standings


• Round One •

Half of a Yellow Sun v. Absurdistan
judged by Brady Udall

The Echo Maker v. The Emperor’s Children
judged by Marcus Sakey

Firmin v. Brookland
judged by Sarah Hepola

The Second Coming of Mavala Shikongo v. The Road
judged by Maria Schneider

Arthur and George v. One Good Turn
judged by Kate Schlegel

The Lay of the Land v. English, August
judged by Colin Meloy

Alentejo Blue v. Apex Hides the Hurt
judged by Dan Chaon

Against the Day v. Pride of Baghdad
judged by Anthony Doerr

• Round Two •

Half of a Yellow Sun v. The Emperor’s Children
judged by Jessa Crispin

Firmin v. The Road
judged by Mark Sarvas

One Good Turn v. The Lay of the Land
judged by Maud Newton

Alentejo Blue v. Against the Day
judged by Sam Lipsyte


Half of a Yellow Sun v. The Road
judged by Elizabeth Gaffney

One Good Turn v. Against the Day
judged by Sasha Frere-Jones


The Road v. Against the Day
judged by Andrew Womack

One Good Turn v. Absurdistan
judged by Rosecrans Baldwin


The Road v. Absurdistan
All Judges + Jessica Francis Kane