Daily Archives: September 8, 2010

From the beginning

This week I slowly poured through Jonathan Franzen’s newest novel, “Freedom”. The reviews, the praise, the hype, it’s all well deserved – the book is a tribute to how a good story should unfold. However, at the same time, I was experiencing a kind of sadness as I got deeper into the book. This was the first Franzen novel I had read, and while it was a demonstration of an author at the peak of his talents, I couldn’t help but think I wish I could have seen how he developed into such a talent. That’s why I like to start at the ground floor – an author’s first work, where it all begins.

Would my opinion of Franzen be of any higher regard if I had read his first novel, “The Twenty-Seventh City” first? Then building up to“The Corrections” (National Book Award winner) into anticipation of “Freedom”? I’ll never know. Which is why when given the opportunity to read the new David Mitchell, I withdrew. Instead opting to read “Ghostwritten”, Mitchell’s first work, so that I may gather what kind of raw talent he had, and how those talents developed into a National Book Award and best seller lists for “Cloud Atlas”.

My favorites, however, are the authors I find when they are totally fresh. It’s hard work, attempting to stay on top of new authors, but it’s often incredibly rewarding. I mean, can you imagine how nice it must have been to have begun reading Vonnegut at “Player Piano”? Here are a few of my favorites, authors I will be watching develop for a long time.  

Vincent Lam: With “Bloodletting and Other Miraculous Cures”, a collection of short stories, this first time author who works as a doctor as his other job can seriously consider a career change.

Donald Ray Pollock: Pollock sounds like a man who has lived hard. Every character in “Knockemstiff” is downtrodden, beaten and mean. I wonder what other disgusting and vivid imagery this author can create, as the small town in this intertwining collection of short stories tries to get by on drugs and violence.

Patrick de Witt: Similar to Pollock’s work  (as well as first timer Rebecca Barry’s “Later, at the Bar”) de Witt’s first novel, “Ablutions: Notes for a Novel” , is stunning. This novel grabs hold and doesn’t let go until you are left at rock bottom with your narrator. Prostitutes, alcoholics, and criminals pepper a world of dealing, petty theft, and questionable motives.

The joys of reading an established author such as Franzen, Joyce Carol Oates or Philip Roth are well documented – as a reader it is rewarding to see an author flaunt their talents almost effortlessly. But may I recommend, for the sake of a challenge, taking on somebody new? I know I’m already looking forward to my next new author – I’m starting Tom Rachman’s “The Imperfectionists” – here’s hoping for a good start towards something great.

– Tony

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