Anne Tyler’s book A Spool of Blue Thread [London: Vintage, 2015] has me in its thrall. The two chapters, 4 and 5, which are so rich in dialogue just perfectly capture the mood and the theme. Everyone is speaking but not everyone else is listening or hearing what is being said. It’s Chekov in Maryland.
Freedom by Jonathan Franzen [London: Fourth Estate, 2011] richly repays all the time spent working through its 597 pages. On the evidence of this book (and taking previous convictions into account) Franzen has earned his place in the pantheon of Great American Novelists in the tradition of Updike, Steinbeck and Faulkner.
Saul Bellow was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1976, the year after Humboldt’s Gift was published [London: Secker & Warburg, 1975] and the two events are certainly connected. However, among many tall American novelists of the 20th century, Bellow was already a towering giant, at least as high as William Faulkner. Our UK novelist of standing, Martin Amis is a great admirer of Bellow whom he described in a 2003 interview as “The greatest American author ever, in my view”.
Philip Roth’s writing career extends over more than fifty years but Letting Go was his first full length novel, published in 1962. I have been reading the Penguin edition from 1984. This first novel shows that, way back then, Roth was, as he still is, a talented and versatile writer in complete control of his subject and already a master craftsman. What is particularly important in Letting Go is Roth’s ability to write from within the mind, the psyche, the soul even of the several characters. When the point of view shifts from Gabe Wallach, the principal character, the voice shifts seamlessly and the reader is perched on the shoulder of each new narrator. This is compelling writing.