I spotted this on John Crowley's LiveJournal, because who reads the New York Times anymore? (John Crowley has a LiveJournal?? Yes he does.)
Early this year, the Book Review's editor, Sam Tanenhaus, sent out a short letter to a couple of hundred prominent writers, critics, editors and other literary sages, asking them to please identify "the single best work of American fiction published in the last 25 years." Following are the results.THE WINNER: Beloved, Toni Morrison (1987) Okay, a legitimate choice. Sometimes, as with Tar Baby, I've wondered if Morrison wasn't an accomplished writer of beach romance who got very lucky indeed. But Beloved is a strong ghost story and a strong race story. ('Race story'? Yes. I'm reclaiming the adjective. Why not? Race is the not-so-secret engine which drives American culture.) THE RUNNERS-UP: Underworld, Don DeLillo (1997) So you're twelve years old, and you're watching Raiders of the Lost Ark for the very first time. That opening sequence in the Amazon, wow! You're blown away. And then, for no good reason at all, Spielberg hands over direction to Robert Altman, who shifts forwards thirty years, exploring Professor Jones' life in academia among the hippies. Every once in a while there's a cool Nazi-stomping flashback, but then the movie switches back to pointless character motion, what they call 'churning' on Wall Street. And it's four hours long. Underworld is like that.
Blood Meridian, Cormac McCarthy (1985) A good psycho Faulkner Jonah Hex-style Western, and maybe the best Western since Oakley Hall's Warlock. It also has the best guest appearance by the Devil I've seen in recent years. Rabbit Angstrom: The Four Novels, John Updike (1995) 'Rabbit at Rest' (1990) 'Rabbit Is Rich' (1981)
'Rabbit Redux' (1971)
'Rabbit, Run' (1960)
Disqualified. Also, just not that interesting.
American Pastoral, Philip Roth (1997)
I skipped this Roth. Any compelling reason for me to have read it?
THE FOLLOWING BOOKS ALSO RECEIVED MULTIPLE VOTES:
A Confederacy of Dunces, John Kennedy Toole (1980)
A surprise! A fun New Orleans burlesque. (A sympathy vote? It doesn't need one.)
Housekeeping, Marilynne Robinson (1980)
John Krewson, now sports editor of The Onion, recommended this to me in college. And I thanked him. A smooth, sly, liquid novel about sisters raised by a transient aunt near a lake in the middle of nowhere, Idaho. (C & D, there's a copy in the last box I sent to Yerevan.)
Winter's Tale, Mark Helprin (1983)
I remember nothing about this doorstop fantasy novel. I think that says it all.
White Noise, Don DeLillo (1985)
Libra, Don DeLillo (1988)
If you like obsessing about the Cold War through extended metaphor, this is the sort of thing you'll like. Also, Libra has some nice Lee Harvey Oswald bits.
The Counterlife, Philip Roth (1986)
Operation Shylock, Philip Roth (1993)
Sabbath's Theater, Philip Roth (1995)
The Human Stain, Philip Roth (2000)
The Plot Against America, Philip Roth (2004)
Wow, I've skipped a lot of Roth. Is he, um, near death and this reflects a sympathy vote? I miss the old 'obsessed with shiksas who will do anything' Roth, because I'm kind of that way myself.
Where I'm Calling From, Raymond Carver (1988)
I predict that, in the near future, the critical apparatus required to read Carver sympathetically will exceed the actual length of his stories. Important, for a moment.
The Things They Carried, Tim O'Brien (1990)
Already taught in the high schools. A stereoscopic pair with Haldeman's The Forever War.
Mating, Norman Rush (1991)
John Krewson also recommended this to me in college, but I had already read it. So should you. Bad relationships among expats in a Botswanan commune, from a solidly realized female raconteuse's point of view. (Accurate? I dunno. But solidly realized.)
Jesus' Son, Denis Johnson (1992)
Eh. Still, better than Infinite Jest or Generation X. "How low can you go?"
Independence Day, Richard Ford (1995)
Missed this one. I respect Ford, but I am not taken with Ford.
The Border Trilogy, Cormac McCarthy (1999)
'Cities of the Plain' (1998)
'The Crossing' (1994)
'All the Pretty Horses' (1992)
After All the Pretty Horses, I had no desire to read the sequels. Might be me.
The Known World, Edward P. Jones (2003)
Missed this one completely. Argh. Added to the list.
Now to open up the discussion: what do you think is the best book of American fiction in the last 25 years? (No books where you're personally tuckerized.)