After a decidedly quiet run up to this year’s National Book Awards, the winners have been announced. William T. Vollmann, known, it seems, more for his graphomania than any of his books in particular, has won for his novel, Europe Central. Back in April, when the book came out, Tom LeClair in the New York Times called Europe Central Vollmann’s “most welcoming work, possibly his best book.” In the next sentence, LeClair calls Vollmann “an off-putting writer, sometimes intentionally so,” and perhaps the judges figured now, when Vollmann has written a more accessible (or shorter, though only for Vollmann could 832 pages be considered short) book, is the time to give him the plaudits he deserves.
The non-fiction award went, unsurprisingly, to Joan Didion for her heart-wrenching and much praised memoir of the year following the death of her husband, John Gregory Dunne, The Year of Magical Thinking. In the Washington Post, Jonathan Yardley called it “a lacerating yet peculiarly stirring book.”