Thursday, May 11, 2006

What Is the Best Work of American Fiction of the Last 25 Years?

That's the question the New York Times asks "a couple of hundred prominent writers, critics, editors and other literary sages."

The Number One choice is Beloved by Toni Morrison, but that's not the real news.

The real news is that Philip Roth is represented by SIX FREAKIN' BOOKS -- about a fourth of the list.

I like the guy, too, but come on.

The runners-up are:

Underworld by Don DeLillo
Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy
Rabbit Angstrom: The Four Novels by John Updike
American Pastoral by Philip Roth

The also-rans:

A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole
Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson
Winter's Tale by Mark Helprin
White Noise by Don DeLillo
The Counterlife by Philip Roth
Libra by Don DeLillo
Where I'm Calling From by Raymond Carver
The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien
Mating by Norman Rush
Jesus' Son by Denis Johnson
Operation Shylock by Philip Roth
Independence Day by Richard Ford
Sabbath's Theater by Philip Roth
Border Trilogy by Cormac McCarthy
The Human Stain by Philip Roth
The Known World by Edward P. Jones
The Plot Against America by Philip Roth

What, so far as I can tell, they were right about: the four Rabbit books, Housekeeping, Where I'm Calling From, Mating, and Jesus' Son. These are or will be classics of American fiction, long and short, and I think each one is absolutely distinct.

Of the Roth books they picked I've only read The Plot Against America, American Pastoral and The Human Stain. None of them made that much of an impression on me, but I personally would make a case for The Dying Animal.

What I don't get, besides the Roth thing: Don DeLillo. Granted, I've never read White Noise, but part of the reason I never have is because I have read Libra, which is not bad, and Mao II, which is only okay, and Underworld -- a book I am convinced no one remembers beyond the first fifty pages.

What they missed the boat on:

Mason and Dixon by Thomas Pynchon
The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen
Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro
Gilead by Marilynne Robinson
The Darling by Russell Banks
Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
Still Holding by Bruce Wagner

That's what jumps out at me, anyway, at this hour of the world. If I think of more during the day I'll say more.

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