2024 Tournament of Books: The Bee Sting vs Blackouts

My picks for who would win the quarterfinals were both knocked out before they got there but, one of the weird and wild parts of the Tournament of Books is the Zombie Round: The most popular books that were previously eliminated get a chance to come back from the dead before the finals and as it turns out, the zombies this year were also my picks to face off in the final round.

(I would note that in my own brackets I had the face-off in the zombie round being Heaven and Earth Grocery Store vs The Shamshine Blind and The Bee Sting vs The Lost Journals of Sacajawea but I’m going to pretend that I didn’t scribble that on my printed out brackets).

So we have The Bee Sting, which I, like many of the Tournament of Books proletariat apparently, thought was an incredibly strong book in the competition. The four members of the Barnes family living disconnected but still intertwined lives as things fall apart thanks to financial, personal and climate crises. Murray plays with form so that each of the five parts of the book is almost a distinct novel in itself.

Blackouts is also a novel that plays with form, although in this case it’s a mix of blackout poetry from a mid-twentieth-century study of homosexuality plus a narrative that blurs the boundaries between fact and fiction. And while it’s an inventive book and one that won much admiration from the judges as things progressed, I found The Bee Sting to be a more satisfying read. Plus, Justin Torres already has a National Book Award, does he really need a rooster as well?

My judgment on the judgment

Oh man, I have to say that I found Kyle Chayka’s decision completely the opposite of mine in every way. I found the stasis of Blackouts to be more frustrating than delighting and maybe it’s a weakness on my part, but I like plot and aspects to a book that reveal themselves on re-reading. 






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