Canon 2.0

Andrew Seal points to an interesting find within the bowels of Google Books: the almost-complete text of a 2007 book by Karl Bridges, 100 Great American Novels You’ve (Probably) Never Read. True enough, the number of books listed that I’ve read comes to exactly two—and one of them, sorry to say, is Jay McInerney‘s Story of My Life.

I read the novel as a teenager, and recall actively disliking it. But then, like most teenagers, I was a more susceptible to received wisdom, and my chief guide through the 80s brat-pack novels was the brilliantly snarky faux Cliffs Notes guide that Spy magazine published in 1989 (not without some controversy). Since then, the novel has become known for reasons other than its alleged greatness, but I’m still open to hearing an argument for it. Unfortunately, Bridges’ book is disappointingly thin on that front. His critical commentaries are brief and, er, bloggy, and for a book that’s allegedly pumping greatness it sure does a soft sell. Story of My Life, I learn, doesn’t have much going on in terms of plot and character, but “is a funny novel, delivered crisply and intelligently.”

If nothing else, though, it’s another list to argue over, and one of a few voices that have pushed me toward the work of Vera Caspary, who I hope to get to soon.

5 responses to “Canon 2.0

  1. Only one of Bridges’ picks appears on my own list of novels read: Godric, by Frederick Buechner.

    Shame on me, I guess.

  2. I think Story of My Life might actually be targeted chiefly at the vacuous, Gossip Girl-set, which might explain why many others don’t think much of it; that might have been my main point in an early blog post I wrote about the novel. That post was written before I’d quite gotten the hang of blogging, but I still think it explains some of my interpretations about the book.

    • Mark Athitakis

      Thanks for sharing that link, Jake. I think you’re right that the novel was intended to critique money culture more than revel in it, though if I my (admittedly fuzzy) memory of the book holds, McInerney never really made clear how far he wanted to go in either direction, and he painted himself into a corner by inventing a character with a limited capacity for self-awareness. (“American Psycho” at least made clear who its targets were, to pick another brat-pack book as an example.) I seem to recall “Story of My Life” as the point where the critics turned on McInerney—he’d published a generation-defining novel, followed it up with an earnest but flawed student work (“Ransom”), then came up with a novel that suggested he was going to do nothing but chatter about an element of New York life that everybody was sick of hearing about by the end of the decade. Until then, critics generally seemed to be rooting for him, and it would take more than a decade for him to earn their trust back.

  3. I can vouch for three books on the list.

    Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko is an important novel in Native American literature. A very poetic novel that winds its narrative in very unique ways.

    The Dogs of March by Ernie Hebert is an amazing novel by an old professor of mine that chronicles the changing face of modern New England.

    Fat City by Leonard Gardner is one of the best boxing books I’ve ever read. If you liked Tom Jones’ books you’ll like this.

  4. I’ve only read two too, or maybe just one. The Laurie Colwin and I think the Dawn Powell. I’ve been meaning to read Vera Caspery too!

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