Thursday, July 19, 2012

American Novels


What novel best describes America with all its good and bad traits? Is the real American a small town, a rural landscape or all of these. Is it nineteenth century, twentieth century novels. I doubt anyone would chose current novels or ones from earlier than the nineteenth century. Something like THE SCARLET LETTER really only addressed an isolated group of people to my mind. Although perhaps the fervor of the Puritans has remained or returned.

Here is a list of someone's idea of the most pertinent novels in describing the U.S. of A.

If someone from another planet, landed here, what book would you give him to best understand our nation?

Although THE GREAT GATSBY, MIDDLESEX and AMERICAN PASTORAL are contenders, I am going with MILDRED PIERCE. How about you?

19 comments:

Deb said...

The American experience is so vast, I just don't know any one book can sum it up. I might choose Bonfire of the Vanities, although I'm not a big Tom Wolfe fan, because it does cover a vast array of characters, although the focus is all urban.

George said...

America is so diverse it's hard to chose one novel that could capture all its richness. To me, a pure American novel is LONESOME DOVE by Larry McMurtry. It won a Pulitzer Prize and the TV mini-series was excellent.

Mike Dennis said...

MILDRED PIERCE is a great one, Patti. So, IMO, is James Michener's CENTENNIAL.

pattinase (abbott) said...

It is vast indeed. I think it would be easier to choose a novel from most any other country. Probably something that showed the immigrant experience would be best. But BONFIRE certainly shows the greed and Lonesome Dove the western heritage. I might go for Call it Sleep on thinking it over. Or Angela's Ashes.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Michener is a great choice.

Charles Gramlich said...

I can see a book to represent America at different ages. Seems like the modern America is very different in many ways from that we had only fifty years ago. The Grapes of Wrath was a great illustration of America at one point. "Dallas" was an illustration in the 80s, unfortunately. I don't know about today.

Anonymous said...

I don't see how any one book can represent this country. I mean, I'd pick THE GRAPES OF WRATH for one place and time, and several of the others mentioned (LONESOME DOVE definitely) for another.

Jeff M.

Anonymous said...

GMTA, Charles


Jeff M.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I guess it comes down to what your idea of what the main American experience is. In the time we live perhaps. If that is the case, for America now, I might choose BONFIRE because that greed defines the last thirty years.

Jerry House said...

Hard to pick one, although Huckleberry Finn is still a leading contender.

For novels that helped define the American character, one might look to the Western (Shane, The Ox-Bow Incident, etc.). The definition may be mythic but it does strike a chord in the American spirit.

I recently read Stephen King's Hearts in Atlantis and (fantasy elements aside) it struck me as a vivid portrayal of a generation.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Seems like there might be a defining novel for each generation and in each area of the country.

Prashant C. Trikannad said...

Patti, I wonder if Norman Mailer's AN AMERICAN DREAM and Gore Vidal's WASHINGTON D.C. fit the bill. I read these novels a long time ago. I think, the novels capture the underbelly of American social and political life, as it existed then.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I read both of these years ago. Probably good examples of mid-twentieth century American.

Naomi Johnson said...

I'd choose James Lee Burke's THE TIN-ROOF BLOWDOWN.

pattinase (abbott) said...

On my tbr. Some day I may get to it!

Cap'n Bob said...

Babbit.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Perfect for 20s-30s, isn't it? That book impressed me so much at the time but I wonder if anyone reads it now. Or any of Sinclair Lewis.

John said...

I think choosing books that define an era or decade makes better sense than books that wholly capture the American spirit ... or whatever that ineffable thing is we're trying to put a name on. Chabon's book is one I wouldn't immediately think of as purely American. But as far as capturing an portion of a pop culture facet of American life that has now consumed a huge portion of the population I think it's a clever choice.

Like Cap'n Bob I was surprised Sinclair Lewis was missing. I still think IT CAN'T HAPPEN HERE is his best book. There's a book that would shock the pants off people if read in great numbers today. It's eerily prescient. Has it ever been reissued? A big bestseller from the 50s, THE MAN IN THE GRAY FLANNEL SUIT by Sloan Wilson, is a good contender for something unaccountably missing from the list.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Another book on my TBR although I saw the movie. (Gray Flannel). I love MAIN STREET too. I think I read everyone in my late teens and early 20s.