2024 Tournament of Books: Chain-Gang All-Stars vs Brainwyrms

I first encountered Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah’s writing in his short story collection Friday Black. The first story in the collection, “The Finkelstein 5” blew me away so much that when I finished reading it in the back seat of a Lyft in January 2019, I wanted to tell the driver that he needed to pull over the car and read the story now. I still regret this enough that a part of me wants to get a job working at Lyft so I can get access to their database, find that driver, track him down and make him read the story.

This is why, out of all the books in the competition, Chain-Gang All-Stars was the only one that I bought rather than got from the library (and, in fact, I bought it before the short list was published). I went into the book with high hopes, and, well, I found myself reading something that was meant to be, at best a long story, not a novel. The use of footnotes to provide real-world dcocumentation of some of the aspects of criminal carceration tend to work against the narrative, I felt.

Brainwyrms seems to be part of a pattern of books in the Tournament of Books that take contemporary anti-trans attitudes and turn them into a near-future dystopia (last year’s tournament featured Manhunt also in that genre). I understand the desire and need for this in a community that feels besieged, but at the same time, the stories that have come out end up feeling a bit undercooked. This was another case of this, with the titular metaphor not making much sense for me. As a consequence, my choice to advance is Chain-Gang All-Stars.

My judgment on the judgment

I had very agreement with Stephen Krause’s opinions in his judgment so it’s no surprise that he came up with the opposite choice. As flawed as I found Chain-Gaing All-Stars, it felt like a more successful novel to me than Brainwyrms. It seems that the right side of the brackets is where my brackets especially break down.


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