Andrew Sean Greer's Less winning the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. While the novel is deemed comedic, one paragraph riffs on Shylock and they both not only deal with aging and loneliness, self-deprecation and all the other attendant emotions, but the language... no other writer compares a human being to a soft-shelled crab; nor does any other writer consider the crab's transparent carapace. Those lines (about Arthur Less, a failed writer) are ones you can die happy after having written:
Once, in his twenties, a poet he had been talking with extinguished her cigarette in a potted plant and said, "You're like a person without skin." A poet had said this. One who made her living flaying herself alive in public had said that he, tall and young and hopeful Arthur Less, was without skin. But it was true. "You need to get an edge," his old rival Carlos constantly told him in the old days, but Less had not known what that meant. To be mean? No, it meant to be protected, armored against the world, but can one 'get' an edge any more than one can 'get' a sense of humor? Or do you fake it, the way a humorless businessman memorizes jokes and is considered 'a riot,' leaving parties before he runs out of material?"
Whatever, it is, Less never learned it. By his forties, all he has managed to grow is a gentle sense of himself, akin to the transparent carapace of a soft-shelled crab. A mediocre review or careless slight can no longer harm him, but heartbreak, real true heartbreak, can pierce his thin hide and bring out the same shade of blood as ever. How can so many things become a bore by middle age -- philosophy, radicalism -- but heartbreak keep its sting?
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(The Pulitzer Prize is an annual award for achievements in newspaper, magazine and online journalism, literature, poetry, music, and photography in the United States, funded since 1917, as an incentive to excellence, from the will of publisher, passionate crusader, and visionary Joseph Pulitzer. List of Pulitzer Prizes for Fiction here.)
As many talented writers have insisted, the best way to become a better writer is to read, read, read. Have you read every novel that's won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction? That might be a good place to start. During National Poetry Month 2013, I participated in "Pulitzer Remix," a project of The Found Poetry Review. Eighty-five poets from seven countries each wrote a poem a day from one of the 85 Pulitzer-Prize-winning works of fiction published to that date, and posted on the Pulitzer Remix website. Toward the River is a collection of my Pulitzer Remix poems from Michael Cunningham's The Hours.