March Madness: The Tournament of Books Is Here!

It’s that time of year again – no, not that basketball nonsense. The first round of the Morning News Tournament of Books kicks off tomorrow with a match-up between Donald Ray Pollock’s The Devil All the Time and Julian Barnes’s The Sense of an Ending. Color commentators John Warner and Kevin Guilfoyle preview this year’s tournament here, and at BookRiot, Jeff O’Neal puts odds on each of the sixteen contenders. The selection of books doesn’t seem to be quite as quirky as it has been in the past, but there are still some interesting choices—Helen DeWitt’s edgy satire Lightning Rods, Kate Zambreno’s character study Green Girl, Teju Cole’s fever dream Open City, and The Devil All the Time, which is practically a Quentin Tarantino movie in novel form.

It’s a pretty evenly matched tournament this year (unlike last year, when Freedom and A Visit from the Goon Squad were the clear favorites); with the exception of March 16’s contest, in which I expect The Marriage Plot to wipe the floor with Green Girl, even most of the first-round decisions could go either way. I’m very curious to see how Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84 will do. I’m about a quarter of the way through it, and I admire it but don’t really love it; also, I’ve heard bad things about the ending, which I won’t reach for another seven hundred pages or so. For me, the most intriguing (and painful) match-up will be on March 13, between The Tiger’s Wife and The Stranger’s Child; those were my two favorite works of fiction last year, and I hate that one of them (probably The Stranger’s Child) will be cut in the first round.

O’Neal favors Ann Patchett’s State of Wonder—he gives it 4-1 odds—but I’m doubtful; it has a tough first-round competitor in Patrick deWitt’s The Sisters Brothers, and I don’t think the messy plotting in the final third will stand up to a lot of scrutiny. My money is on The Tiger’s Wife for the win, although I think that with a little bit of luck and the right judges, The Sisters Brothers could go the distance.

Regardless of the ultimate winner, we can expect some agonizing upsets and some infuriating judging over the next few weeks — but that’ s half the fun. Let the games begin!

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