By Eric on February 5, 2012
Rethinking the Great American Novel in a guest post for the Portland Book Review‘s Writers on Writing, Eric Olsen defines the illusive tome and riffs on why we need it now more than ever.
Posted in Writer as Public Intellectual | Tagged Great American Novel, Portland Book Review | 4 Responses
OK. What was not said was “Now, get out there Writers, and win, win, win.” You came through with a great message.
Hey Eric – here’s what you get for poking the word bears!
When I used to hear the term “Great American Novel,” I just thought somebody was being facetious – as in – there is no such thing, just a bunch of good books by American writers with American readers choosing to taste. But you got me thinking. I feel a counter-post coming on.
I haven’t made time for writing up why “Beloved” oughtta be on that list, but I’d also add Zora Neale Hurston’s “Their Eyes Were Watching God” and Doctorow’s “Book of Daniel”….(of course, will any of these really hold up when I do the work?) Wouldn’t you add “Slaughterhouse 5,” too????
Geri – lots of wonderful writers, lots of readers with good taste. Not familiar with Hurston but will check on Amazon. ‘But Slaughter House 5’?
Actually recall KV read some of the early ‘SH-5’ chapters in class – think some of that got cut and later believe I saw parts in ‘Breakfast’. I can’t be objective about KV – too close from classes and story conferences, and seeing him just before the opening of ‘Wanda June’ in NYC – October ’70. Unfairly prejudiced in his favor.
Have been trying to write a review of Shields bio ‘And So It Goes’ that just came out but have stalled, restarted and stalled again due to conflicted contrast between “Rosewater” author (“Goddamit babies you’ve got to be kind!”) and material from letters and interviews with friends and enemies in bio about KV’s personal life. That would be his life after college-aged, anti-war readers made him a cult hero and he got rich.
(The “big kahboom” daughter Edie said after ‘SH-5’ sold over 200k copies in a few weeks right after it came out.) Shields says that despite KV’s characterizations that American corporations were greedy and inhumane, bought and sold death, he invested in Dow Chemical (napalm) and Phelps Dodge (strip mining) stocks?? I e-mailed Shields about this – asking if maybe these investments were the result of buying mutual funds, but have not heard back yet.
Think it was a “Time” reviewer who pronounced (after “SH-5”) that KV was “… the only American writer over 30 that readers under 30 could trust.” Remember a Vietnam vet at one of Bill Fox’s Sunday barbeques, after hearing this, said something like – “What the hell’s not to trust? His stuff’s all peace-loved-up anyway.” Not my opinion of course…
I digress – should offer a note here about the encomium I gushed about Doc Abe’s “Cutting for Stone.” One phrase I used ” … gourmet menus with no prices” – I will bet anything is a mot from something he wrote, although probably singular.
Anyway – “and so it goes”… dc
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