The…A Great American Novel: Or Making Amends

On Monday I published the post titled “The”¦A Great American Novel,” and in that post I noted the impossibility and futility in attempting to discover “the” great American novel, and instead proposed that as readers we should strive to find “a” great American novel in respect to time and place. I then composed a very short list of works which I considered to have captured the American soul within their framework, and also poetically illuminated American ideals in all their many forms, whether they are hopeful and hardworking or nihilistic and anarchic.

In the midst of editing the list I noticed all my choices were male, and I offhandedly commented as much at the end of the post. Anniina also noticed my gender-omission and pointed it out in the comments section. I vowed to formulate another list, this time comprised solely of females.

In the original post I listed authors who I felt the academic academy had unjustly ignored, perhaps because of their contemporary or popular appeal, and attempted to steer clear of works canonized and readily taught in institutions of higher education. This proved somewhat difficult for the female list, and probably because of my own reading habits more than anything else.

See, the American female authors I read on a regular basis, Anne Rice, Candace Bushnell, Madeleine L’Engle, Holly Lisle, Poppy Brite, and Laurell K. Hamilton, haven’t really written what I’d characterize as a great American novel. Entertaining? Most certainly. But truly great? Mmmm, less certain on that one. Bushnell’s the only one who comes close, but even still, I don’t really think she quite gets there. As Anniina pointed out in her comment, our culture hasn’t exactly encouraged women to become writers until very recently, and in some places I suspect a number of folks still harbor the notion that writing is an artistic pursuit best left to men. Consequently, male authors greatly outnumber female authors, thus making list-constructing endeavors like mine doomed to insult the female readers before I ever placed fingers to keyboard (I’m exaggerating a bit, but at the same time I’m not).

I did formulate a list I’m proud of without using Lee, O’Connor, Wolff, Morrison, Walker, Jacobs, Hinton, etc. You’ll have to forgive me, because I did include two Pulitzer winners.

“The Dispossessed” Ursula K. le Guin. I led off with PKD in the last post so I only thought it appropriate to lead off with a sci-fi author on the female list as well. If you think females are underrepresented in mainstream publishing then you must not be a sci-fi fan because they are practically non-existent in the techo-nerd community. Unless you’re talking about Ursula, that is. She’s been publishing in the genre for nearly fifty years. In “The Dispossessed” le Guin explores the possibilities of a Utopia, and the dangers of a centralized government.

“A Thousand Acres” Jane Smiley. Smiley reworks “King Lear” and places her story of sibling rivalry, greed, and betrayal on a farm in Zebulon County, Iowa. The dilemma of how a rural woman defines herself, mother, sister daughter, becomes a central theme of the novel. We begin to see that in Zebulon County, and on the Cook farm in particular, women are defined by their relationships to men and their ability to bare children.

“Shipping News” E. Annie Proulx. Yes, this is the basis for the shitty Kevin Spacey movie, but don’t hold that against the novel. And I also don’t wanna hear any semantic complaint that I should exempt this one because it takes place in Newfoundland. This text perfectly captures the hurt and psychic damage that occurs after a horrible relationship. Besides, Quoyle eventually seizes control of the foreign newspaper and manages it with the flair of a capitalist, just as any true American would.

“Christ Our Lord: Out of Egypt” Anne Rice. Okay. I know I listed her as a female author who I didn’t consider “great,” but I rethought my decision and I’m listing her here for the exact same reason I listed Frey on my other list: she’s capitalizing on exploitation. Frey capitalized on our societies voyeuristic need to see folks hit bottom for entertainment pleasure, regardless of “facts,” and Rice has cleverly capitalized on the current fad of renouncing past debauchery to embrace radical fundamentalism…and then profiting from the fundamentalism.

So that’s my list. Whattya think?

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Comments

  1. Anniina says:

    You have vindicated yourself, not that I ever thought you needed much vindication. You know I’m a compulsive reader of “HyperLiterature” and your devout fan. I’m in the process of writing a post referencing your two posts on the subject, but haven’t finished because my internet went down in the midst of it, and I got too pissed off. For more on that, you can read my rant on my blog 😛 Will follow up within the next few days tho. Fascinating choices you made, kudos!

  2. Anonymous says:

    So I am sitting here wanting to post a comment, but I feel like I am going to be the arch evil conservative who makes the comment about, “what does it matter if you didn’t include a womyn author on your list.” It is after all your list and there are numerous glaring mistakes anyway since you haven’t read the right books!

    SO back to the idea that you need to include womyn on your list. So where are the African-Americans? the Hispanic? The Asians? Cause your list seems very cracker (the saltine kind) Don’t they get a voice!

    Now that I have writen that I feel like I have spent my dime. Although I think that lists puts you in the same as John Cussack and CO. in “High Fidelity.” You think you know more and you are better.

    But of course I guess thats why you have a blog site and we have made comments about your post.

    M. O. Ronsky

  3. Mark A. says:

    Thank you Anniina. I visit your blog obsessively as well. POST FASTER!! Kidding. I know you’re extremely busy, unlike some of us who sit around in our underwear all day with nothing better to do than play on the computer.

    Speaking of Mr. Ronsky.

    You’re right. I didn’t include any Hispanic or Black women, but I do remember prefacing my choices by stating that I was making a list of writers who’d I’d read that I thought were great. I also think I remember stating that I wasn’t gonna use Morrison or Walker or Douglas because they’d been canonized and dissected to death in the academy. Or did you not know those authors were black?

    The whole point of the post was not to make a definite list to be viewed statically, but to create a list as a point of playful contention with readers. As in: You put so-and-so on there? Why? You shoulda put Mrs. X. And I think you may have missed the point of the list-making in “High Fidelity” too. It’s a way to spur a conversation; a way to engage your art-loving group of friends in a mock argument. It’s fun. Or was supposed to be.

    And as you say “I haven’t read the right books,” but as you didn’t offer me any other suggestions for great books, and instead decided it easier to simply troll along and shit on my virtual lawn, I’m gonna go ahead and assume that you just haven’t read any at all.

    This is just an aside, but I noticed that you misspelled “woman” as “womyn.” I find your use of the “y” quite revealing. Did you know that in Old English the term for a flightless or wingless dragon was “wyrm?” Also, in Shakespeare’s masterpiece “Macbeth” the three witches are continually referred to as “weird sisters,” and as Stepehen Orgel states in a footnote for the term: “weird (two syllables: from Old English “wyrd,” “fate,” hence “supernatural,” associated with fate, with an overtone of the uncanny, suggested by F’s spelling “wayward”).”

    You see where I’m going with this don’t you? Everyone? Uh-huh? Mr. Ronsky? Not so much? I think you may have experienced just a little Freudian slip when you typed that aberrant “y.” You think women are dragons don’t you? Something to conquer and steal money from? Maybe poke’em in the gullet with your “sword” when they’re not looking? Or you think they’re craggly, cackling, androgynous fates who like nothing more than to severely mind-fuck the first tripod that walks along? Hail! Hail! Hail Ronsky!

    One more thing: If M.O. Ronsky turns out to be a certain someone whose surname is synonymous for deluge, THEN NO FIREFLY FOR YOU WHICH I AM IN THE PROCESS OF RIPPING! OR SHITO KATA’S ON DVD WHICH I ALREADY BURNED.

  4. Anniina says:

    Hmm, just occurred to me that perhaps it is MORONSKY, without the full stops? (>.>) And Mark, you should soooo not be pirating Firefly, ’cause a) the actors among others get cheated out of their residuals, and b) we want them to see sales for Firefly, so they bring the show back….. 😛
    Moment I’m better off financially, I’m buying copies for all I know, heheh. Thanks for the sweet words, btw. And when I’m not out pretending to be someone else, I too sit around the house, in my jammies, on the computer 😛 I promise to post more frequently, if the Comcast BastardSwords stop cutting me off…

  5. Anonymous says:

    Oh, yeah I guess the first point was (to quote you) “The whole point of the post was not to make a definite list to be viewed statically, but to create a list as a point of playful contention with readers. As in: You put so-and-so on there? Why? You shoulda put Mrs. X. And I think you may have missed the point of the list-making in “High Fidelity” too. It’s a way to spur a conversation; a way to engage your art-loving group of friends in a mock argument. It’s fun. Or was supposed to be.”

    M. O. Ronsky

  6. Mark A. says:

    Who’s the aggressor animal now?

  7. Anonymous says:

    Me, me, me.

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