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.
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Like the myth of American Exceptionalism, we are routinely belabored by the myth of The Great American Novel. There is no such thing: never was and never could be. Why?
First, the entire idea begs the question that a novel would in some way be the vehicle to glorify America. A novel? Is that actually a serious option? Maybe it should be a poem … Howl perhaps. But the second question is the deal breaker: would The Great American Novel expose everything that is America? Would greed and self-agrandizement be depicted alongside altruism and freedom? What epitomizes the American Way? Is it wage slavery or upward mobility? Is it crime and drugs or bribery and cheating?
If someone actually wrote The Great American Novel and told the true story of America, would we accept it? Of course not. The Great American Novel would have to continue the fiction, expand on the myths, cover up for all the lying, deception, and international skullduggery.
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