The greatest American novel, according to some experts

by Jess

I’ve always been fascinated by books that define themselves as distinctly American: American Pastoral, American Psycho, etc., to say nothing of the many books that encapsulate uniquely American events or characters but that lack the titular adjective — I’m thinking of many of Steinbeck’s works, Grapes of Wrath, Cannery Row, The Winter of our Discontent. What is it that makes America so tremendously … American? It is many things, I suppose, and every expert would give a slightly different take on the matter, though you’ll often hear race relations or diversity as primary elements.

I think the nine English scholars (why only nine, I wonder?) consulted by The Millions do a good job identifying some of the many great American novels. Many of them cite a novel’s treatment of race relations as the reason they picked it, and I think that it’s particularly a salient issue in light of the recent Zimmerman trial. I have read some of these novels and should very much like to read the rest, except, maybe, the Henry James novel, The Ambassadors. Good grief, he’s a great one to study in a classroom setting, but I have a feeling that would be a bit of a slog. Can’t knock it till I’ve tried it, I suppose. Take a look and see what you think.