New York City post Sandy. Disheveled streets but lots of movement. The beautiful and fabled Cipriani! And seriously, a red carpet. With photographers. All the other fiction finalists are better looking than me, and they are guys. Third nomination for the National Book Award -- and I know exactly what to do when my book doesn't win. I will turn to my editor, shrug. Then we say in unison, "we wuz robbed." But this time after a few days of downing Tums and with erratic sleep, I hear the title of my own book called and my head drops on the table -- good thing the plate was gone. I remember galloping up to hug Lorrie Moore (chair of the fiction judges). Once I start hugging her I don't want to let go, as then I will have to say something. I am not good at preparing speeches -- my words always get away from me. All I remembered was that I would try and start the speech in Ojibwemowin because if I did that I was fairly sure I'd get some magnanimous spirit to help me with the rest of it. Besides, I had promised my daughter Persia that I would use the Ojibwe language as often as possible -- she is working so hard to become an Ojibwe immersion school teacher.
Back to those good looking guys, the other finalists. Dave Eggers, A Hologram for the King, Junot Diaz, This is How You Lose Her, Ben Fountain, Billy Lynn's Long Half-time Walk, and Kevin Powers, The Yellow Birds. I read each book and each time I finished reading I thought "this is the one, this one is better." They are all books that should have won this prize. But I was in a magic realm of chivalry. First, Junot Diaz approached me before the whole shebang and said that he wanted me to win this -- he was utterly charming and completely in earnest. Besides, he loves one of my favorite writers, Michael Martone. I have already met the only person who really belongs on the red carpet -- carelessly gorgeous terrific writer and editor of The Believer, Vendela Vida, married to Dave Eggers. When I met her I didn't realize that she was married to him, I was trying not to stare at her profile. She mentioned that Dave was taking care of the kids while she was out working -- hey, I found out, that Dave, taking care of the kids. Once I knew, had to like him. As it turns out, he, too, is okay with being in good company and looks like he just wants to go home. Likewise, the other painfully handsome dudes -- Kevin Powers and Ben Fountain. They make a point of saying they are glad for me, removing awkwardness. Ben's sweetly handsome son (why are they all so nice looking?) finds me to shake hands. In fact, it feels like nobody actually won this thing and I go home with a 5 lb piece of bronze feeling just the same as when a finalist.
But once home, it starts -- as I get out of the airport cab and drag my little bag up to the house my agile wide-eyed fourth grade niece throws herself along the sidewalk, a blaze of red hoodie and brown hair. She collides with me, up in my arms, a hug. Then she yells at me, you won, you won, and we got ice cream! Hey, both of their parents are pediatricians. Ice cream is big. Ice cream all around and a 10 lb piece of bronze in my carry on. Guess it did happen. More -- stay tuned.