Tag Archives: Books

My favorite debut novels

Creating this list, I considered the arc of a novelist’s career: is the debut self-sufficient enough to be fully representative of his or her career? Hence the omission of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s This Side of Paradise. Also, did they only write one novel? Hence the omissions of The Bell Jar and Wuthering Heights. Others, like Jhumpra Lahiri’s The Namesake and John Cheever’s The Wapshot Chronicle, don’t match the concentration of their short stories.

1. Kingsley Amis – Lucky Jim
2. Flannery O’Connor – Wise Blood
3. Charlotte Brontë – Jane Eyre
4. Alan Hollinghurst – The Swimming-Pool Library
5. Toni Morrison – The Bluest Eye
6. Philip Larkin – Jill
7. Saul Bellow – Dangling Man
8. Günter Grass – The Tin Drum
9. Zadie Smith – White Teeth
10 Marilynne Robinson – Housekeeping
11. Richard Yates – Revolutionary Road
12. James Baldwin – Go Tell It on the Mountain
13. Gustave Flaubert – Madame Bovary
14. Harper Lee – To Kill a Mockingbird
15. E.M. Forster – Where Angels Fear to Tread
16. Jane Austen – Sense and Sensibility
17. Monica Ali – Brick Lane
18. Garth Greenwell – What Belongs to You
19. Ralph Ellison – Invisible Man
20. Michael Chabon – The Mysteries of Pittsburgh
21. George Eliot – Adam Bede
22. Penelope Fitzgerald – The Golden Child
23. Jeffrey Eugenides – The Virgin Suicides
24. Truman Capote – Other Voices, Other Rooms
25. Carson McCullers – The Heart is a Lonely Hunter
26. David Foster Wallace – The Broom of the System
27. Ann Beattie – Chilly Scenes of Winter
28. Evelyn Waugh – Decline and Fall
29. Iris Murdoch – Under the Net
30. James Wilcox – Modern Baptists

Bret Easton Ellis, the scribbler as pedant

VOX’s Catherine Grady explains why Bret Easton Ellis is a pedant and the dullest of provocateurs:

Those who react with outrage to Trump and, for instance, the children who are being kept in cages as a result of the Trump administration’s family separation policy, need to take a deep breath and listen to Ellis. “You need to be sedated, you need to see a shrink, you need to stop letting the ‘bad man’ help you in the process of victimizing your whole life,” he advises, mere pages after patting himself on the back for his love of art and discourse that “challenge” him and make him “more empathetic.”

What is ostensibly animating Ellis’s rage here is his love for aesthetics over ideology, which he feels have become embattled in the current cultural discourse. But leaving aside the fact that there is no such thing as non-political art — that Ellis’s position as a white, gay, wealthy cis man has as much influence on his perspective as Barry Jenkins’s perspective as a black straight man has on Moonlight (“dour and downbeat,” Ellis opines) — Ellis’s ostensible love for style is not evident in the clogged and uninteresting White.

Again and again, Ellis earnestly relies on the wildly unspecific non-word “problematic” as his catchall criticism. (Suggesting that gay jokes are passé is “problematic,” as is writing off Ellis as a dick.) He glories in dad-like insults, like calling millennials “snowflakes” and “Generation Wuss.” He falls back time and again on the cliché rather than the original, the generality rather than the specific.

I’ve fought the Ellis type most of my adult life: the sort of person who chastises non-Ellises for sharing political points of view from which his wealth insulates him; a member of an ancien regime who assumes there’s bravery in conformity, going along, letting men like Ellis moderate discourse. This is a fellow whose novelized autobiographies suffer from a disinterest in natural phenomena and incuriosity about other people not Bret Easton Ellis so total that they’re as airless as a basement.

‘If Beale Street Could Talk’ offers confused, necessary myth making

Written during a period of personal tumult, James Baldwin’s If Beale Street Could Talk dared to present a young American black couple in love — unusual in 1974 when colleagues Saul Bellow and John Updike avoided love stories, radical for a novelist watching the collapse of the bipartisan consensus over civil rights legislation and nothing with which to replace it. The black family in the Nixon era was on its own. Continue reading

‘Can You Ever Forgive Me?’ celebrates, refreshingly, literary charlatans

I’ll say this for Can You Ever Forgive Me?: it gets a crucial part about writing correct, a part missed by so many pious films about writers. The lengths to which writers will go to avoid idleness. In director Marielle Heller’s telling, Lee Israel, a biographer of famous women who has lived long enough to see her Estée Lauder book get remaindered, is the most admirable fraud: committed to the scrupulous forgeries of letters written by Fannie Brice, Dorothy Parker, and Noel Coward. There is an art to this larceny, and I suspect Coward and probably Parker would have bought her another whiskey and soda, or at best not called the cops. Continue reading