american writers

Troubles Plague Appalachia, Past and Present, in Ron Rash’s ‘In the Valley’

Lee Polevoi

The stories in his new collection, In the Valley, are set primarily in Appalachian. They plunge the reader into challenging, sometimes life-threatening situations that often resolve in surprising ways. Stacy, a mentally fragile park ranger, must hold her own against a lawbreaker twice her size in “Flight.” During the last days of the Civil War, a widow named Rebecca is confronted by a gang of violent Confederates, in “Neighbors.” A young man named Brent takes drastic action when a rich client cheats Brent’s blue-collar father out of money owed in “When All Stars Fall.”

New Novel Navigates a Grim Personal Journey and Unraveling World

Eric Michael Bovim

My goal was to try not to think. When I was away, I was a good enough father through texts. I would wait to hit send once the wheels left the tarmac. I don’t know why I would procrastinate until a single column of cell signal remained. By the end of the year, though, I was taking seven pills a day just to freeze the frame of my decline. Grief can bleed you into white nothing. Colin soon became symptomatic.

Earth Day: Dinner With America

Rick Bass

We might talk about what makes a great American. Great ones we’ve known. Teachers would be thick among them, and older people of integrity we’ve been lucky to know. My grandfather. My parents. Artists are my heroes, too. I’d talk about Berger, and Merwin’s poem “Thanks.” We’d stay up late. I’d plug in the porch lights.The pie would be pretty great. And after we caught up on her last ten thousand years — Say what you want about global warming, she’d laugh, but I was pretty excited at first, when that last ice sheet started to go away — she might ask what I’ve been up to.

How Dorothy Parker Getting Fired From ‘Vanity Fair’ Launched the Algonquin Round Table

Jonathan Goldman

That afternoon, Parker and Benchley went to the Algonquin to tell their stories, staying for hours of gossip and rounds of drinks. After repeated recountings, the Round Table wits, who had long heard the complaints about Nast and Crowninshield, sprang into action. Alexander Woollcott persuaded his editors at the New York Times that the paper should cover the story. His article appeared the next day — good publicity for the trio, tantamount to a free "for hire" listing.  

Desperately Seeking Sasquatch in John Zada’s ‘Valleys of the Noble Beyond’

Lee Polevoi

John Zada went on multiple journeys to the Great Bear Rainforest in British Columbia for his new book, In the Valleys of the Noble Beyond. In small towns and villages, Zada meets many people who claim to have seen the Sasquatch, “the alleged race of half-man, half-ape giants” on the loose in the wild. Like its distant counterpart, the Yeti, a rumored denizen of the Himalayans, the Sasquatch, aka Bigfoot, has purportedly left behind footprints and engaged in random encounters with hunters, fishermen, and members of the Kitasoo, Heiltsuk, and other First Nation peoples.

 

Remembering the Genius of Kurt Vonnegut and ‘Slaughterhouse-Five’

Adam Gravano

As a young man, few books exerted anything like the formative power held by Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five. Despite the grim acceptance of a world with conflict and war, Vonnegut still fell into writing an anti-war book, perhaps an anti-war book highly ranked among the best. This year marks the 50th anniversary of its publication, and, accordingly, Modern Library has released a new edition with a foreword by Kevin Powers. And, as the foreword shows in splendid detail, the lessons of Slaughterhouse-Five are just as relevant today as they were in 1969. 

In ‘Voyager,’ Russell Banks Is Restless in Love and Travel

Lee Polevoi

He comes across as alternately guilt-ridden over his treatment of his wives and at times belligerent about demands made on him by women and friends. In recounting the rigors and delights of a magazine-commissioned travel piece (“Thirty islands in sixty days”), he sometimes skims over key details and offers up a glossy summary of his experiences. It seems the article he finally wrote helped to exorcize personal demons, as much as convey the overall experience to readers.

The Art of the Personal Essay Is Still Alive and Well

Lee Polevoi

Is the personal essay “in eclipse” in today’s literary landscape? Jonathan Franzen, guest editor of The Best American Essays 2016, thinks so. As he notes in his introduction to the latest collection, most American publications have ceased publishing these “pure essays,” while smaller publications that still do so “have fewer readers than Adele has Twitter followers.” 

Remembering Jack London

Hal Gordon

Given that he turned out so much in so little time, the quality of London’s work is uneven. He spread himself too thin and he knew it. One reason that he kept relentlessly grinding out one book after another was that because after the deprivations of his youth, he enjoyed living well. So he wrote to maintain his flashy lifestyle. His attempt to escape the treadmill he had constructed for himself only chained him to it the more securely. 

Ann Beattie Returns With New Collection of Compelling Short Stories

Lee Polevoi

Ann Beattie, secure within this elite pantheon, returns after a decade’s absence with a new book, The State We’re In: Maine Stories. Those familiar with her work will immediately recognize the wry perspective, the closely observed details, and the smooth texture of her prose. As the title announces, these stories revolve, directly and indirectly, around people living in the Pine Tree State. 

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