The 15-Minute Pulitzers
I’d have to double check, but Margaret Ayer Barnes’s Years of Grace, the winner of the 1931 Pulitzer Prize, may well be the longest Pulitzer, by about a multiple of 2, yet. And this during a rather busy time of my summer, when I had to place it on hold before I could check it out, and, and, and, oh, who cares. I finished it. To quote Pollyanna, “I’m glad of that.”
But, seriously, the book won me over. It took awhile, but it did.
I mean, the beginning is very pedestrian, and I was having trouble understanding why I should care, but as the main character, Jane Ward-Carver, ages (the book opens when she is 14 and closes when she is 51) the intellectual content of the story accelerates and by the end (for me at least) engagingly grapples with questions of right and wrong, generation gaps, and the meaning of life. I don’t think that last is an overstatement.
It’s interesting that this is not actually Barnes’s best known work. A play that she co-wrote with a gentleman named Edward Sheldon, Dishonored Lady, has been adapted into film twice.
Beginning in Chicago near the turn of the 20th century and ending in Paris well after the first World War, I found much to like in this “longest of Pulitzers.” A highlight was a moment just over halfway through the novel in which I distinctly heard a bit of my own mind, unfortunately this could be a bit of a downer, a moment in which the ever-charming but ill-fated Jimmy says to Jane Ward-Carver as she prepares to disembark from the train, “You look modern . . . and you look very, very thoughtful. All people who think sooner or later go through hell.” Funnily enough, I believe it was that moment and that quote that convinced me that this was a novel that was thinking, in short, it made me think, and that kept me going until the almost, but not quite, bitter end.