He wrote the Great American Novel and he is my nomination for the most underrated American writer of all time. He’s Conrad Richter and his trilogy The Awakening Land (The Trees, The Fields, The Town) augmented by The Sea of Grass and The Grandfathers is arguably the greatest novel written by an American about the American experience. Richter’s prose is lyrical but precise and he can paint a word picture that plops the reader into the heart of the dense natural forests of early America,forests that are all gone now.
I cannot recommend reading The Awakening Land with any more praise and esteem. My words are insufficient: only reading the novels can expose the greatness of the narrative.
But Richter has written many other novels, some more successful than others. My recent experience was The Waters of Kronos. Imagine a town that was engulfed by the dammed waters of the Kronos River. Just the town, however, because the cemeteries and graveyards were relocated to higher ground. A boy who is now grown returns to the town and while visiting the graves of his relatives a horse cart arrives on the road that was under water.
Here is where Kronos takes over and in the best Rod Serling manner, the man finds the town high and dry, just like when he was a boy. I found this trop interesting, not because it was without cliché, but rather because Richter is such a realist in his other prose.
Wikipedia provides a good source of titles by Conrad Richter:
- Early Americana (short stories) (1936)
- The Sea of Grass (1936)
- The Trees (1940)
- Tacey Cromwell (1942)
- The Free Man (1943)
- The Fields (1946)
- Always Young and Fair (1947)
- The Town (1950)
- The Light in the Forest (1953)
- The Mountain on the Desert (1955)
- The Lady (1957)
- The Waters of Kronos (1960/2003)
- A Simple Honorable Man (1962)
- The Grandfathers (1964)
- A Country of Strangers (1966)
- The Awakening Land (trilogy in single volume, 1966/1991 revised paperback edition)
- The Aristocrat (1968)
- Brothers of No Kin and Other Stories (posthumous short story collection, 1973)
- The Rawhide Knot and Other Stories (posthumous short story collection, 1985)