Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The greatest American novelist


This series is back. This is inspired lunacy. It's the Guardian's attempt to pair off the greats of American literature, one against the other, in a series of head-to-head clashes until we have the last giant standing, the greatest American novelist. I love it because it's such a daft idea.

What I love about it most is that I can almost hear the fusty-breathed fulmination of the champions of academia about how impossible it is to compare one writer against another in this manner. And of course they're right. In this round we have Saul Bellow against Raymond Chandler. How can you begin to compare them? And if you think that's bad, in the next round we have Nabokov against my hero Kurt V. with his Breakfast of Champions (not my favourite, but who's gonna quibble with Kilgore Trout?) Vlad and Kurt just can't be compared. Which is why the whole thing is such fun.

And then again, maybe you can begin to compare them. Weren't Bellow and Chandler, in their own - massively different - ways superb psychoanalysers of their characters? Think of Pop and Woody in Bellow's "A Silver Dish", or Chandler's Philip Marlowe, or the hapless Moose Malloy, his amazing character from Farewell, My Lovely. And don't Nabokov and Vonnegut both force us to look at seemingly unarguable facts from a different, somewhat painful perspective?

Look hard enough and connections can always be found.

And meanwhile, enjoy the ride. However, if my own favourite, Carson McCullers, fails to beat Thomas Pynchon in the next round, I reserve the right to take my bat home and sulk. Especially since they've selected the wrong McCullers novel. The Member of the Wedding is a great novel, but it's not as great as The Heart is a Lonely Hunter which can make you cry and laugh and applaud and scold all at the same time.


Jim H. said...

I want to play!!!

Happy Holidays, TC. And best wishes for the New Year!

Tom Conoboy said...

And to you Jim. Here's to plenty more debate in 2014....