Let the Great World Spin
  • March 9, 2010

    Opening Round

  • Commentary by

    Kevin Guilfoile & John Warner

  • Today’s Winner:

    1Let the Great World Spin

Miles From Nowhere

John: In previous years, our TMN brain trust, editors Baldwin and Womack, manned the gates of the Zombie Round, the last barrier between the books and the finals, but this year, we’ve mixed it up, giving the boys a couple of opening round matchups which is sure to change the tourney in impossible to predict ways, sort of like casting Crispin Glover in your movie.

Kevin: It has been a quirk of the tourney that Rosecrans and Andrew have been, until this year, the Vinz Clortho and Zuul of the final round, and so every book that has so far displayed the coveted gold-foil Rooster sticker on its cover has reflected their sensibilities to one degree or another. I applaud the decision to change things up this year. As Angel Cabrera reminds us, the Masters will still be the Masters without Tiger, and the Rooster will still be the Rooster without Rosecrans cruelly snatching away some young author’s late-round dreams of victory.

John: I thought both Let the Great World Spin and Miles From Nowhere were very very good. Miles From Nowhere was reminiscent of Denis Johnson’s Jesus’ Son, a series of linked stories, not working a continuous plot, but nonetheless, driving us toward a satisfying conclusion, only substitute a Korean teenage runaway for Johnson’s smacked-out Fuckhead. For all the bleakness of the events, it never wallows, and never goes begging for sympathy and is often funny. (A lot like Jesus’ Son.) I read it over the course of a Sunday, ignoring seemingly more important things, like napping or catching up with episodes of Tabitha’s Salon Takeover.

But Let the Great World Spin looks like a potential Tournament juggernaut to me, early ‘90s U.N.L.V., if you will. In fact, I’d take Let the Great World Spin versus the field straight up. Now, it wasn’t my personal favorite read of the Tournament (though I enjoyed it quite a bit), but it just has the feel of an award winner, maybe because it’s already won a big (National Book) award. As Baldwin notes, it’s a “monster,” the kind of book I think only a handful of writers can try to pull off and McCann did it successfully.

Kevin: I know the regard you have (as I do) for Jesus’ Son, so that’s high praise for Mun. I think I enjoyed Let the Great World Spin even more than you and Rosecrans did. Crans suggests that he liked it less at the end, but I actually thought the ending was moving without being sentimental. It’s a book that is broadly ambitious, but also extremely readable. It was very near the top of my personal list (among the nine entries I read) and I think it’s safe to say we have an early favorite. If I can switch to an Olympics metaphor, Let the Great World Spin has blistered its way onto the leader board after its first run.

John: The gravitas practically oozes off the pages and while I personally preferred the time I spent with Miles From Nowhere, if we’re looking at something suitable for an award, even one that comes in the form of live fowl, Let the Great World Spin just feels like that kind of book.

Kevin: Let the Great World Spin also has an Oscar-winning documentary companion, the terrific Man on Wire about Phillipe Petit’s high-wire crossing of the World Trade Center. Last year’s runner-up, City of Refuge, also had an Oscar-nominated film (Trouble the Water) that helped illustrate the central conceit. If anyone’s currently working on a novel about Daniel Ellsberg, we’ll save you a spot in next year’s competition.

As for our friendly wager, John, you and I both had Let the Great World Spin at the top of our confidence rankings, and so we head into the next contest tied with 16 points each.

Kevin Guilfoile is a contributing writer for TMN. His debut novel, Cast of Shadows, has been translated into more than 17 languages, and his second novel, The Thousand, will be published in August 2010 by Alfred A. Knopf.

John Warner is a contributing writer for TMN. He is the author of Fondling Your Muse: Infallible Advice From a Published Author to the Writerly Aspirant. He teaches at Clemson University.

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