Of Time and the River

on 29 May 2012

So, Brett asked my opinion on American Authors, so here you go.

I met Samwise because I wanted to move in to their (Samwise and Juliet, whom I only ever called Julietta (pronouced hoo-lee-eta) a al Baz Lurman's Romeo and Juliet) apartment.  I can't remember if it was Samwise or Julietta who was reading The Great Gatsby, but one of them was reading it for a book group and in my completely oblivious way, I sat down and proceeded to expound on the brilliance of F. Scott Fitzgerald and the greater theme of time and the river in the novel.

I'm pretty sure Julietta thought I'd lost my marbles, but it was fine if I lived there, so I did.

I confess myself decidedly finicky about American authors.  I think it has something to do with the relatively new literary tradition in our country, that American literature is inconsistent and decidedly lacking in luster.  I have a few writers whose works I admire, but in general, I don't care for American literature.  The authors that I admire, I find are more connected with European traditions than American.  Here's my list...

  • Louisa May Alcott (I really like her novels, though, after reading 1 chapter of her biography I don't know that I'm a fan of herself.)
  • F. Scott Fitzgerald.  Oh my.  I love that man.  I should specify, I love his mind, I love the way he writes, but he himself...was maybe a little iffy.  The Great Gatsby was one of those books I read in high school that totally blew my socks off, and it continues to blow my mind every time I reread it.  I love his melancholic meditation on how fluid time is, how perilous and futile it is to try to resist the passage of time, and how our choice is to learn and grow with the passage of time, or to stagnate and thus reduce ourselves to irrelevance and misery by resisting it.
  • Earnest Hemingway.  Hm.  I don't particularly care for him.  And it is with reluctance that I admit that he had considerable talent.  But he did.  He has an interesting style, particularly for someone who thoroughly enjoys the long-winded, effusive 19th century styles of Dickens and Conrad.
  • Robert Frost.  I love Robert Frost.  I'm not sure I could say anything more complimentary than that.
  • Edith Wharton.  I love Edith Wharton, I love her novels, I love her style, I love how totally unchanged society seems to be from the portrait she painted in the late 19th century.  She is wise and brilliant.
And that's it for classics.  I have a few modern writers that I enjoy, here's the list...
  • Jonathan Safran Foer.  Author of Everything is Illuminated, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close and Eating Animals.  He is quirky and wise and funny and post-modern and thus, not for everyone.  But I think he's just brilliant.
  • His wife Nicole Krauss.  Author of the History of Love.  She is also wise and funny and heart-breakingly intuitive.  She has an understanding of the human soul that defies her youth.
  • Haven Kimmel.  Author of A Girl Named Zippy, She Got up off the Couch, and the Solace of Leaving Early.  She's local here in North Carolina and she is also quirky and funny and wise and sad.  Apparently, that's my favorite combination in modern literature.  I have everything she's published (except Iodine with is a horror novel) and I'd probably read a cereal box if she wrote it.
  • Chaim Potok.  He was recommended to me by my wise and brilliant sister Sherry.  And (I just confessed to Samwise) I read FOUR of his novels in a five week period when I was pregnant with the Boy.  I LOVE him.  His style is vaguely reminiscent of Hemingway, but he's considerably wiser and kinder to human nature than Hemingway is.  I particularly love the Chosen, My Name is Asher Lev and the Gift of Asher Lev.  (I reread those Asher Lev books every other year or so.)
  • Thomas Wolfe.  I have to be in the right mood to enjoy Thomas Wolfe (he's early 20th century and his style is...impressionistic), but his books live on my shelves, so he really does belong on this list.
And there you have it.  M's musings on American Authors.  I think my ambivalence is owing to the youth of our country, and you might look at our nation and say, "Well, it's  236 years old!  That's OLD."  But in artistic terms, it really isn't.  There is a richness to European (and Russian) literature that derives from the Romans and the literary traditions of the Middle Ages.  I am willing to admit that in a thousand years, American literature might, might be going somewhere good.


Brett said...

Okay, I'm seriously tempted to read this at my next book club meeting when we discuss Gatsby. I'll probably have it printed out - if I can steal Ben's computer again - and ready for the perfect moment. I'm so glad that you also like Gatsby and Fitzgerald's writing in general. I need to read the other books you recommended as well.

I like what you said about there being potential for American literature to be good eventually. Sounds a bit harsh, but I understand what you mean about all of the culture and history that shapes a country's literature. Something to think about.