I don't know exactly what makes a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel. I'm sure if I looked into it, I could find the exact specifications, but I'm not going to do that. I'll just go on what I know and what I've read: I'm reminded of American Pastoral, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, A Visit from the Goon Squad--there are similarities and they are all winners. If Pulitzer time rolls around and The Last Flight of Poxl West is mentioned in the same breath as the aforementioned new classics, I would not be surprised in the least.
The book has two narrators: the title character in the form of his best-selling memoir and his 15-year-old American "nephew," Eli.
Poxl left his native Czechoslovakia in a huff as a teenager in the 1930s after he walked in on his mother having sex with a painter (very much not her husband.) He went to Rotterdam where he fell in love with Francoise, a musician whom he later discovers to be a prostitute. WIth the inability to put Francoise's profession behind his love for her (and the unfortunate witnessing of her on the job,) Poxl leaves yet again, this time for London where has father has set him up just as Czechoslovakia is occupied by the Nazis. There Poxl takes all the nececssary steps to become a fighter pilot in the Royal Air Force. He meets and falls in love with Glynnis, a nurse, only to lose her in the Blitz. Still though, he can't seem to shake his love for Francoise. She is a major focus of Poxl's narration. She and Shakespeare, that is. Poxl's love of the Bard--that Glynnis' mother instilled in him--turns into something a bit more as the novel winds down thanks to Torday's creativity.
All the while, Poxl becomes a fighter pilot--a heroic one, at that. But still, the constant worry over his lost love and whether she is even still alive after the Luftwasse bombings of Rotterdam remains the primary focus in his memoir.
Meanwhile, Eli, who looks to Poxl like a grandfather even though there is no real relation (his actual grandfather and Poxl were good friends--meeting after the war when Poxl moves to the States,) gives the reader insight into Poxl in present (1986) times. Skylock (Poxl's memoir which Torday uses to tell his story) is critically acclaimed and becomes a bestseller. Eli idolizes his uncle and wants only to think of him and absorb is succes and adulations. He finds himself becoming more popular and his grades are improving--all thanks to Poxl, the hero and much lauded author.
I very much appreciated Daniel Torday's ability to give himself rave reviews without having anyone read his book. Of course, after reading and loving it myself, it is no surprise to me that the actual book has been met with critical acclaim.
His writing is beautiful, Poxl's story is compelling and Eli's emotional dependence on his uncle seems all to genuine. There really is so much to this novel: it's one of those books that once you have completed, you smile thinking back to parts you may not have considered while reading.
I adored The Last Flight of Poxl West in its entirety and look forward to Torday becoming a mainstay in the literary world. I'm not sure if it was Torday's intention to give the book an American aspect for Pulitzer consideration, but it would be well-deserved.
Poxl West is just the kind of book I seek out and I'm interested to see if we'll be talking about it next April.