I still have a handful of the finalists to finish before my full handicapping sheet is ready, but let's have a look at the notable matchups and judge-placements. In no particular order:
1. Most Intriguing First Round Match-Up: A Visit From the Goon Squad v. Skippy Dies
Terrible luck I think for Skippy Dies. (and yes, I am referring to these books as if they were sentient beings. Reason? Skippy Dies has sat on my lap. Paul Murray has not. QED). I thought Skippy Dies had a chance to advance a couple of rounds, but Goon Squad is a terrible match-up, since it is both more formally innovative and just as beloved by readers. I thought it was better than The Finkler Question, but it was seeded as a 3 to Finkler's 1. Note: the winner of this match-up should make it to the semifinals, since I don't think Savages or The Finkler Question will put up much resistance.
2. Award Winners Get the 1 Seeds
There are a lot of tough first round matches for my favorites, mostly because the major award winners were placed in the protected positions; this pushed some books that had considerably more critical and commercial success into the middle of the bracket to duke it out amongst themselves. The upside is that if you are So Much for That and can get out of your first round, then the second round against a one seed is not as tough as it might be.
3. Best Potential Quarterfinal Match-Up: Freedom v. Room
Veeeeeeeeeeery interesting. Reader darling up against the dauphin of American literature. With the right judge, Room could win this, but Matt Dellinger is a journalist/non-fiction guy and I suspect that Franzen's social commentary will appeal to him more than Donogue's page-turning plot. Plus, there's the gender thing (watch for that as you fill out your brackets. When in doubt, pick the author with the same gender as the judge).
4. Whither Weiner?
Part of me really thought they were going to put Weiner in a position to judge Franzen. I both wanted this and feared it. For good or for ill, though, Weiner gets the Room v. Bad Marie first-rounder, which I expect to go to Room, though Bad Marie presents an interesting opponent. More interesting than the winner here will be Weiner's explanation.
5. Most Favorable Seed: So Much for That
The right side of the bracket seems much lighter than the left. Super Sad True Love Story seems poised to get to the final, but So Much for That, as a three seed, only has to get through a book about horses, one about a white dude in a mid-life crisis, and a poetry collection to make the semis.
6. Head-Scratching Judge Placement
There is an excellent chance that the lead-singer of a largely unknown alternative rock band will be the one deciding between Freedom and A Visit From the Goon Squad. This would be like James Salter deciding between The Black Eyed-Peas and Taylor Swift for the Grammy for Best Album. I like having a couple of judging wild cards but not this late in the game.
7. Applause-Inducing Judge Placement
I really like Audience Judge Catherine George's match. I don't think either of these books is going to do much in the tournament, but these two books are screaming for a struggling MFA to judge them. My sense is that someone who has a draft of something trying to be The Great Canadian Novel in the drawer will be more sympathetic to Bloodroot than The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, but the restraint and polish of Lemon Cake has its appeal. I am disconcertingly fascinated by this.
8. Zombie Round Chaos
My uneducated guess is that A Visit from the Goon Squad and Room will be the Zombie books. I didn't think about the ramifications of the Zombie round in my earlier observations on the short-list, but the prospect of Goon Squad getting a 1-Up late in the game makes it, to my mind, the sharp's bet to take home the poultry.
Alright, that's it for now. Back to getting through the whole list before March 6. Let me know if anything else about the brackets caught your eye.
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