The New York Inquirer has belatedly picked up the story of the New York Times article that attempted to identify the best of American (sic– they mean US) fiction of the past 25 years. There was a much controversy about the Times article because although the winner happened to be by a woman (Toni Morrison’s Beloved), only one of the 21 runners-up was also by a woman (Marilynne Robinson’s Housekeeping). Many bloggers created their own lists, and one of them, Mapletree7 of Book of the Day, ran her own poll back in May and posted her results here, in June. (I mentioned that the NY Inq. is a bit late to this particular party!)
Here’s the nub of the NY Inq. piece: "From Jane Austen to the Brontes to George Eliot to Virginia Woolf to Doris Lessing, Britain’s women have produced extraordinary novels that have stood the test of time. They’re still read, studied, and loved today.
"Regarding novels written by American women, the pickings are slim. I could only find Willa Cather, Edith Wharton, Carson McCullers as possible examples of great American women novelists from the 19th and early 20th centuries, and while each author might be beloved, it’s a stretch to mention any of them in the same breath as the British women listed above.Today, the greatness of Toni Morrison is indisputable. Marilynne Robinson’s majestic prose and Joyce Carol Oates’ prolific observations of American society rank them among the best American novelists. Glimmers of greatness can also be seen in the works of Kathy Acker, the radical authoress, poet and performance artist; Mary Gaitskill, with her dark and precise incisions into female sexuality; experimental Carole Maso; Andrea Barrett, Maxine Hong Kingston and other women authors. Whether any of them (besides Morrison) can rise to the upper echelon of truly great novelists remains to be seen."
Ruiyan Xu, author of the NY Inq. article, asks for feedback about her contention — she says she would like to be proved wrong. Amazingly, there are no comments yet to her article.
Frank Wilson of Books, Inq. has picked up on the NY Inq story: "What think you readers?", asks Frank. And just take a look at the unholy row going on in the comments to the Books, Inq. post! As Peter writes there: "This is probably the most vigorous discussion I’ve seen on a blog since David J. Montgomery got called on the carpet for posting a Ten Greatest Detective Novels list that had no female writers on it." (Yes, that carpet hauler was me, I admit it.)
Please do contribute your own views on the women novelists’ question , either to the Books, Inq. comments or in the comments here. Great women "American" novelists of the past 25 years, anybody? ("American" is in brackets because Canadians seem to be excluded, which lets out Margaret Atwood — not a favourite of mine but I know she is widely respected.) My vote is for Carol Shields, somewhat hesitantly as I have read only one of her books. It was excellent, however, and I have more on my shelf to read.