Saturday, July 20, 2013

The Most Versatile Writer?

What writer writes across the largest canvass? In other words, who constantly surprises you with what he/she turns out next?

I am going with Stewart O'Nan who never seems to repeat himself. If you look at just three of his books you can see what I mean.






SPEED QUEEN is about a woman in jail, and how she got there. A PRAYER FOR THE DYING is about a nineteenth century doctor returning from the Civil War. LAST NIGHT AT THE LOBSTER is the story of a man closing down his branch of the Red Lobster for the last time. Here we have a crime novel, historical fiction, and a very contemporary story. His dozen novels are all very good and all very different in tone, subject, sex of the protanogist and age. Who else pulls this off?

34 comments:

Anonymous said...

I haven't read as much O'Nan as you but I agree with your conclusion. He's also covered Vietnam and returning veterans in THE NAMES OF THE DEAD.

I suppose one obvious answer would be Joyce Carol Oates, who turns out an endless tsunami of work, but I don't read her very often so can't really comment from personal experience.


Jeff M.

Steve Oerkfitz said...

O'nan and Oates are good choices. Dan Simmons is another. He has written horror(Song of Kali, Carrion Comfort)),Historical(The Crook Factory,Drood, The Terror), crime(Darwin's Blade).

Anonymous said...

My first thought was Kate Atkinson--I like big, meaty books with lots of characters and she pulls it off brilliantly. I've also been reading some Ross MacDonald Lew Archer mysteries and really admire the way he weaves together various characters, back stories, occupations, motivations, etc.--and each mystery has a different background and setting.

My favorite novelist is Anthony Trollope--talk about big novels with lots of characters, backgrounds, and themes. The best!

Deb

pattinase (abbott) said...

I might add Joe Lansdale who seems to write a different book every time out. Dan Simmons is a good choice. And Kate Atkinson for sure. I have read all of her books and although the four Jackson Brodie ones seem to be alike, she uses the genre to look at different issues. Tom Franklin is another.

Anonymous said...

Another one just popped into my head: Larry McMurtry. I like his non fiction as much as his fiction.


Jeff M.

Charles Gramlich said...

James Sallis shows a lot of this. Robert E. Howard was certainly very versatile.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Trying to get Phil to read Lonesome Dove!

pattinase (abbott) said...

Love Sallis.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Trying to get Phil to read Lonesome Dove!

Anonymous said...

Yes, Salliis is a favorite.


Jeff M.

Prashant C. Trikannad said...

Charles Dickens, Edgar Rice Burroughs, and Michael Crichton.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I have never read ERB but the other two, yes!

George said...

Deb's right about Trollope. Elmore Leonard can write westerns and suspense novels effortlessly. Robert Silverberg can write fiction and non-fiction with skill. Marvin H. Albert (who I'm reading for FFB) wrote wonderful novelizations of screenplays, mysteries, and westerns. John Jakes is best known for his entertaining historical novels, but he wrote science fiction and fantasy novels just as good.

Jerry House said...

Ed Gorman, Bill Crider, James Reasoner, Max Allan Collins, Bill Pronzini and so many others...all have tackled multiple genres brilliantly.

But the type of versatility I think you're looking for, I'd go with Evan Hunter. Crime, suspense, mystery, detection, western, historical, science fiction, fantasy, horror, humor, adult, generational, societal problems, children's, romance, non-fiction, plays, film, television, you name it. Even excluding all his other work, the versatility displayed in his 87th Precinct stories is amazing.

pattinase (abbott) said...

great choice. How about Ira Levin?

pattinase (abbott) said...

great choice. How about Ira Levin?

Anonymous said...

Jerry beat me to it - I was just going to mention Ed Gorman. I think his short stories are too little known even by people who have read his novels. He's definitely one of my favorite current short mystery story writers along with Bill Pronzini, Brendan Dubois, Doug Allyn, Clark Howard, Loren D. Estleman (who also could make the list) and a handful of others.


Jeff M.

Anders E said...

Donald E. Westlake is another contender. Just consider that his most well-known series was the Dortmunder books (comedy, sometimes bordering on slapstick) and the Parker books (ultrahardboiled, not one iota of comedy in them). And he also covered basically everything inbetween these extremes.

pattinase (abbott) said...

He's the bomb.

Peter Rozovsky said...

Anders beat me to the punch on my recommendation of Donald Westlake. Shakespeare was pretty versatile, too.
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Bryon Quertermous said...

Stephen King. Hands down. He's written every genre Lansdale has plus some great mainstream fiction in his novellas like Shawshank and The Stand.

Peter Rozovsky said...

I posted that comment a day or two after watching The Grifters, for which Westlake wrote an apparently fine screenplay. The man could write for movies, too, whether adapting others' work or original scripts (The Stepfather).

Joseph Allegretti said...

Richard Matheson (may he RIP).

pattinase (abbott) said...

I didn't know he was involved with THE GRIFTERS. Boy, does that hold up well.
Shakespeare, of course.
I AM LEGEND is the only full length book I have read by Matheson. But it is one of my favorites.
King is an excellent plotter in all fields. Well, maybe not romance.

Peter Rozovsky said...

Someone mentioned Robert Silverberg. I know he's known mainly for his science fiction, but the one book of his that I've read was crime, published by Hard Case, no less (and set in Philadelphia, Patti, around the time you might have been there.)

pattinase (abbott) said...

Blood on the Mink! On sale today!

Peter Rozovsky said...

That's the one. You'll recognize many locations.

Dave Zeltserman said...

Jim Thompson really deserves full credit for The Grifters since there's very little difference between the screenplay and the book--the dialogue for the most part is taken straight from the book.

That said, Parker books, The Ax, Dortmunder, yeah, Westlake was one of the best.

Peter Rozovsky said...

Dave: But someone deserves credit for the decision to reduce the cute nurse's part to almost nothing. I did notice, though, that much of the dialogue is taken straight from the novel, notably xxxx's speech to xxxx about what it felt like to kill xxxx.

Dave Zeltserman said...

Peter, I don't want it to sound like I'm disparaging Westlake's efforts, because he's one of my favorite writers, but the cuts he made for The Grifters were obvious ones (I almost mentioned his cutting that nurse's arc in my earlier post and how it's probably the one extraneous part of Thompson's novel). To go off topic a bit, one screenplay that remained absolutely faithful to its source material but that I consider an amazing achievement is Catch-22. Buck Henry had to do far more than simply cutting to put that screenplay together, yet still have the movie retain the feel of the book.

Peter Rozovsky said...

No, I don't accuse you of being an anti-Westlikite. But I don't want to downplay his effort just because the cuts he made were obvious if those cuts were right and, in this case, faithful to the essence of Thompson.

The nurse arc (and some lazy prose) to my mind knock The Grifters out of the ranks of first-rate Thompson, so whoever knocked it out of the movie gets a high-five from me.

Todd Mason said...

Byron--Actually, no, King has not written every type of fiction that Lansdale has, a notable western writer as well as contemporary mimetic and crime-fiction and fantastic-fiction writer...much less nearly as well as Lansdale. Lansdale at his best is Vastly more original, profound and concise than King even at his best.

Westlake as scriptwriter also deserves to be remembered for the likes of THE STEPFATHER (not the sequels nor the remake, but the original).

Robert Bloch, Kate Wilhelm, Theodore Sturgeon, Avram Davidson, William Kotzwinkle, Kathe Koja, Leigh Brackett, Barry Malzberg, Kurt Vonnegut, Fritz Leiber, Carol Emshwiller, Fred Chappell, Michael Shaara, Walter Tevis, Italo Calvino, John D. MacDonald, R. A. Lafferty, Kit Reed and Richard McKenna (in his too-short career) are among the eclectically excellent fiction-writers who come to mind and have gone unmentioned, and while, as with Oates and Dickens and Lansdale, there are similarities that follow from book to story for each of these writers, they have nonetheless brought a remarkable range to their work and our literature. Having just finally watched THE BIG HEAT the film, I'm even more sure than ever I need to read the novel by Philly's own William P. McGivern, who was surprising in what he would write for the Ziff-Davis magazines though perhaps only fully realized in his crime fiction...the film is very clearly drawn on a novel far more sophisticated than the typical run of hardboiled crime fiction even of its time...McGivern should be given his due.

Todd Mason said...

(I think Byron means to refer to "The Body," filmed as STAND BY ME, rather than the non-"mainstream"--and definitely not novella-length--THE STAND.)

Al Tucher said...

For a mix of fiction and nonfiction, Evan S. Connell.