Skippy Dies was Robbed!

  
Like many bibliophiles, I’ve been following this year’s Tournament of Books competition pretty closely. The ToB is a bracketed showdown of the past year’s top 16 novels based on readers’ and reviewers’ top reviews. Then, celebrity judges composed of authors and literary figures read both books that are facing off and pick a winner to advance to the next round. There’s also a zombie round where readers can vote to bring back 2 previously knocked out books to face off against the remaining novels at the end. You can find a list of this year’s top 16 books here. Now, out of these 16 books, I must confess I’ve only read 5 (Bad Marie, Room, A Visit From the Goon Squad, Freedom and Skippy Dies), so some of the face-offs have been less than exciting for me. However, when I checked the brackets on Saturday I was eager to see the results of the A Visit From the Goon Squad vs Skippy Dies since I’ve read both books and have strong opinions on both. Sadly, I was totally shocked and disappointed to see that Anthony Doerr chose A Visit From the Goon Squad over my all time favorite book from last year.

Sometimes I really feel like I’m the only person who didn’t particularly care for A Visit From the Goon Squad. Mind you, it’s not a terrible book, in fact it was a perfectly pleasant way to pass a Saturday afternoon, but I was really surprised that it got so many accolades and so much hype. To me, it was the literary equivalent of watching a Sex and the City marathon: enjoyable but fluffy. The book was neither clever nor as emotionally hard hitting as I was expecting. In my opinion, Egan was trying too hard to be funny and darkly emotional without ever really achieving it and instead coming across as gimmick-y (50 pages of power point slides!). The characters also seemed really one-dimensional and unlikable in a boring way. Skippy Dies on the other hand was hilarious, satirical, clever, engaging and complex in a way that A Visit From the Goon Squad was not. It was an epic adventure that also similarly spread the story between several narrators but in a much more successful fashion because the characters were all much more full-bodied and interesting. Murray’s prose seemed so effortless compared to Egan’s somewhat clunky, forced words.

To Doerr’s credit, he seemed to enjoy both books immensely but for him Goon Squad seemed more relevant to his life at that moment. This is actually a pretty interesting point, because I feel that if I had read Goon Squad even a year ago, I probably would have loved it too. As I’ve been progressing as a reader however, I find myself enjoying less linear, more creative novels that are much more intricate and epic (Think The Instructions or Catch-22), where I feel Skippy Dies could be classified as well. I absolutely know I’ll be voting for it in the Zombie Round. Thoughts?

2 Responses so far.

  1. Jon K says:

    Skippy Dies was so goddamn good. I didn't read Goon Squad, but it would have had to be pretty incredible to be better than Skippy, and from what I hear in friends' reviews that just wasn't the case. Honestly, the only book from last year that I could concede a Paul Murray loss to would be The Instructions. I am voting in that zombie round SO BAD.

  2. I agree. I really enjoyed both books, but Skippy Dies made me cry. A Visit from the Good Squad was more like a nice experiment in design. Very interesting, but not emotionally wrenching like Skippy Dies is.

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