The Morning News

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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Powell's Books


March 12, 2008

You Don’t Love Me Yet


New England White


Recently in the small, suffocating world of short story contests, there was a bit of a flap. Zadie Smith, judging the Willesden Herald contest, decided not to award the prize. None of the entries was good enough, she said.

Well. The Rooster may not have such a fancy name. We may not have a single celebrity judge (actually we have several), and we certainly don’t have £5,000 to give away—but it is a contest nevertheless and the point of a contest is to choose a winner! From the best available options. Bestow encouragement, money, a live rooster, anything, on the writer whose next work you want to read. It’s unfathomable to me how anyone could see this differently. What harm could possibly come to your precious contest by just following the rules, choosing a winner, and hoping for a better batch of entries next year?

Fortunately for me, the Rooster does not have such a precious view of itself. It stands, in fact, against preciousness, so I will choose a winner of this round even though I didn’t care for either book. I’ve read and loved some of Lethem’s earlier work, so I was surprised by You Don’t Love Me Yet. The jacket copy declared “a raucous romantic farce” from the “incomparable Lethem.” Incomparable I agree with, but the promise of farce began to confuse me. I must be missing something, I thought, about halfway through. Long-married and raised on classical music, I was prepared to blame myself. But how in touch with romantic comedy and the alternative band scene should you have to be to enjoy a book? Shouldn’t it be the author’s job to make them irresistible? He almost had me with the Aparty, the book’s best section. Our apathetic, nameless band is asked to play, silently, at a party to which everyone will arrive with their own music and headphones (think “apart, y”). A funny idea, but after the Aparty, which goes, of course, terribly awry, the band’s sudden success derails the book as much as it derails the band.

Reading New England White was my first encounter with the work of Stephen Carter and after a disheartening few days, I found a way to enjoy it: I opened it each night the way you might tune into a bad TV show. I’d check-in for a chapter or two just to see what predictable thing the characters were going to say next. The book is supposed to be relentlessly suspenseful. I’d say that’s a nice euphemism for repeated foreshadowing. And I know Carter has interesting things to say about race relations in America, but how can you concentrate on them when they’re surrounded by silly prose: “Julia was kicking herself, and not only because she and Mary might both be dead in five minutes.” Don’t you just hate it when you’re about to be dead in five minutes?

So, two disappointing novels but the Rooster must go on! For me it comes down to this: I will read what Lethem writes next. I would not encourage Carter to write another work of fiction.

• Today’s WINNER •

You Don’t Love Me Yet

• About the Judge •

TMN Contributing Writer Jessica Francis Kane’s first collection of stories, Bending Heaven, was published in the U.S. and the U.K. Her work has appeared in a number of publications, including McSweeney’s and the Virginia Quarterly Review, and has been serialized on BBC radio. She lives in New York. Connections to this year’s competitors: “Brock Clarke and I have emailed a few times, a correspondence that began after I read a short story of his in the Virginia Quarterly Review. I met him at a reading in New York where a drink of his choice was discounted at the bar. A $5 martini in New York! If that does not make me beholden to him, I don’t know what does. Brock and I also share the conviction that to have to specify a ‘gin’ martini is a crime.”

• From the Booth •

Maybe Stephen Carter does a little too much foreshadowing only because the rest of the literary world is doing too little of it. Kevin John We seem to thirst for “honesty” and “authenticity” and yet we don’t want too much honesty.
» 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 •

Tree of Smoke v. Ovenman
judged by Tobias Seamon

The Savage Detectives v. Let the Northern Lights Erase Your Name
judged by Elizabeth Kiem

Then We Came to the End v. Petropolis
judged by Anthony Doerr

You Don’t Love Me Yet v. New England White
judged by Jessica Francis Kane

Run v. Shining at the Bottom of the Sea
judged by Kate Schlegel

What the Dead Know v. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
judged by Elizabeth McCracken

On Chesil Beach v. Remainder
judged by Ze Frank

The Shadow Catcher v. An Arsonist’s Guide to Writers’ Homes in New England
judged by Helen DeWitt

• Round Two •

Tree of Smoke v. Let the Northern Lights Erase Your Name
judged by Mark Sarvas

Then We Came to the End v. You Don’t Love Me Yet
judged by Maud Newton

Shining at the Bottom of the Sea v. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
judged by Ted Genoways

Remainder v. The Shadow Catcher
judged by Mark Liberman


Tree of Smoke v. Then We Came to the End
judged by Gary Shteyngart

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao v. The Shadow Catcher
judged by Nick Hornby


Then We Came to the End v. Remainder
judged by Rosecrans Baldwin

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao v. The Savage Detectives
judged by Andrew Womack


Remainder v. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
All Judges + Jennifer Szalai