The Pulitzer Prize board didn't recognize the fiction category this year. Here are our picks for books deserving the award

By Stephan Lee
April 27, 2012 at 04:00 AM EDT

On April 16, the Pulitzer Prize board announced that it would not award a Pulitzer in the fiction category for the first time in 35 years. The decision prompted a backlash from booksellers and the publishing industry, who note that a Pulitzer — perhaps the most prestigious American literary prize — can transform the winning author’s career and translate into a significant sales boost.

While Pulitzer proceedings are confidential, we know that a panel of three jurors — editor Susan Larson, critic Maureen Corrigan, and The Hours author Michael Cunningham — narrowed the field to Train Dreams by Denis Johnson, Swamplandia! by Karen Russell, and The Pale King by the late David Foster Wallace. The decision rested with the 18 voting board members, who couldn’t come to a necessary majority on any of the finalists. The mechanics of the voting aside, the board can’t say that 2011’s fiction wasn’t good enough. We found these five books worthy of Pulitzer praise.

The Submission by Amy Waldman
A brilliantly crafted, prescient, and non-preachy examination of post-9/11 hysteria — and EW’s favorite novel of 2011.

The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach
Academia? Sexual confusion? America’s pastime? This Franzen-esque fiction debut about a troubled college baseball star had all the appearances of Pulitzer bait.

Nightwoods by Charles Frazier
Both brutal and beautiful, the Cold Mountain author’s Appalachian mystery combines enchanting prose with a terrifying story.

Once Upon A River by Bonnie Jo Campbell
A mesmerizing, lyrical tale of a poor yet indomitable girl’s journey along a Michigan river toward a better life.

Stone Arabia by Dana Spiotta
Like last year’s rock-infused Pulitzer winner, A Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan, Spiotta’s novel about a wannabe musician hit all the right notes.