Going Fourth

The Brooklyn Paper brings word of the St. Francis College Literary Prize, which awards $50,000 to the person who’s written the best fourth published work of fiction. (The story keeps saying “novel,” but the official guidelines are more general.) Up for the debut prize are Chris Abani, Aleksandar Hemon, Jim Krusoe, and Arthur Phillips. Phillips tells the paper what a fourth book means for a writer:

“The fourth novel certainly represents a psychological change in a career,” he said. “With the fourth book, I feel like I’m treated as a writer who has been around for a while — and who, if he is going to keep sticking around, is going to have to do something else to keep getting people’s attention.”

The paper also has a tongue-in-cheek chart on other famous fourth novels. A few more fourth fictions, while we’re at it (“checked” against Wikipedia, so inaccuracy may be pervasive):

Joyce Carol Oates, A Garden of Earthly Delights
Don DeLillo, Ratner’s Star
Paul Auster, The Locked Room
Russell Banks, Hamilton Stark
Ha Jin, Waiting
David Foster Wallace, Brief Interviews With Hideous Men
Michael Chabon, Werewolves in Their Youth
Jane Smiley, The Age of Grief

Not much to extrapolate from that list; there’s one of Jin’s best novels, but also DeLillo’s worst. The best that can perhaps be said is that by the time the fourth book rolls around you may be poised for some kind of breakthrough: Chabon’s fifth book was The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay. But plenty of writers I admire (Jhumpa Lahiri, Marilynne Robinson, Nathan Englander) haven’t even published their fourth books yet, so it’s not much of a benchmark for success or acclaim; as far as I can tell, Ben Marcus and Heidi Julavits haven’t hit book number four, and they got to help judge the award.

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On that note, I’m off for the better part of a week, working and traveling. Figure we’ll be dark here until next Thursday, though I’ll likely pop up on Twitter (@mathitak) from time to time.

2 responses to “Going Fourth

  1. Algren’s fourth fiction was his best, The Man With the Golden Arm, so there’s some support to the idea that one’s fourth fiction represents a writer finally hitting his stride.

  2. Pingback: Maud Newton: Blog

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