Listen up, gang, I’ve made no secret of my faith in contemporary literature. Time and time again I have proven more willing to visit a living writer than a revered old one, and more often than not, I am pleased and comfortable with my decision. I may not always read books that are as well regarded as Moby Dick, but I am reading something in the now. I must believe that my contemporaries can also create something beautiful. Never do I get so lucky to find two such gems in one month, however, as I did this past month. Dear readers, this post is about those two books.
Donald Ray Pollock. There’s probably an expletive that fits somewhere in that name, but I’m keeping it gentlemanly. I’ve raved over his debut short story collection, Knockemstiff, in this forum before, so I won’t bore you with retread. Instead, it is his first full length, The Devil All the Time, that now deserves high praise. Pollock worked in a factory for most of his adult life before trying his hand at fiction professionally, and while some may consider this lost time, I think it has fueled his artistic fire. Pollock is grittier than Crews, more southern than McCarthy, and plainly, just a better writer than Palahniuk, but fans of any of those authors will find merit in his work.
It’s not too often a fiction debut lives up to the hype. Too much is put into who the author is, what the advance was, and why this should be held in any regard, with the classics or the masters of today. I’ve read many of the reviews, read enough forgettable novels to know better than get caught up, but at the same time, I can’t help but keep looking. The Art of Fielding is the reason why. I loved this book to the bones. Fielding is, as the title suggests, about baseball. But it is as much about baseball as A Fan’s Notes is about football. That is to say, not very much. It all lies in baseball, certainly, and those more comfortable with the game will understand the nuances more fluidly, but Chad Harbach has crafted a story that is more than the plot. Fans of Jonathan Franzen would do well to perk their ears up, this is very much in his style, as evidence by Harbach’s day job as co-founder and editor (with Benjamin Kunkel) of the literary magazine n+1. Perhaps he should consider this his full-time work (and I’m not the only one who feels that way).
What has been catching your eye this past month, dear readers? I can’t be the only one laying waste to my reading list with this indoor weather. Post comments below for interactive fun!