All the remaining semifinalists are, in some sense, historical novels. Tomorrow’s two are both set centuries ago. Both of today’s use actual, but more recent, historical figures to tell their tale. Being set more recently and relying on more well-established stories, actual events are more constricting in today’s contenders than in tomorrow’s.
Ostensibly, both Let the Great World Spin and The Lacuna use actual historical personalities to give structure to their narrative rather than to drive it. However, with the caveat that I did not finish the book, I felt Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, and Leon Trotsky carried The Lacuna for long stretches, whereas Philippe Petit was a bit player in Let the Great World Spin. While I was not thrilled by McCann’s use of Petit or the complete work, I found Petit less intrusive and more artfully utilized than the trio of charismatic characters around which Kingsolver built her fiction.
Let the Great World Spin was also written with more consistently pleasing prose. Kingsolver seems to have written her book with the goal of making every sentence great. Her ambition shows in some overwrought metaphors and more pedestrian slips. McCann never had eyes sliding across a room and, therefore, he should win this round without working up a sweat.
Update: Was I ever wrong. Jason Kottke has declared The Lacuna the winner. Most of his opinion is devoted to cover design, but, in the end, he just liked the story of The Lacuna better. Maybe that last fourth I did not read really redeems the novel.
TOB Contest Update:
Lizzy (12) and Chris (13) each pick up two points for placing The Lacuna in the Zombie Round and, thereby, remain in the hunt with Christy (13) who stands pat. Darren (8) is still a dark horse with a shot at winning if Let the Great World Spin returns as a Zombie (which it may do) and goes on to stumble to the championship (which it almost certainly will not; given my record prognosticating, Darren should take heart).