Everybody loves Midwestern Lit: it’s a pity there isn’t more of it.
Commenters on yesterday’s post made valuable recommendations, and I came up with seven more.
First, recommendations from the commenters:
Lory of The Emerald City Review: “Willa Cather’s books are all so wonderful… I’m also fond of Thornton Wilder, and his novels The Eighth Day and Heaven’s My Destination. And of course there’s American Gods by Neil Gaiman, with its memorable scenes in a “perfect” midwestern town.”
Nancy: “You can’t go wrong with Willa Cather. My personal favorites are O Pioneers, Death Comes for the Archbishop and The Song of the Lark.”
Stephanie: “I would recommend: all of Wendell Berry’s Port William fiction (set in Kentucky), nearly anything by Willa Cather and Louise Erdrich, and Jessamyn West (specifically The Friendly Persuasion and Except for Me and Thee). I’m going to feel very negligent if I don’t add William Maxwell’s So Long, See You Tomorrow and They Came Like Swallows.”
And more recommendations from me:
Merle Miller’s A Gay and Melancholy Sound. The narrator of Miller’s brittle novel is Joshua Bland, a former quiz kid from New Athens, Iowa. It begins with drinking and misery: think Revolutionary Road meets Something Happened and Main Street. In the late 1950s, Joshua, now a successful Broadway producer, is on the verge of suicide, shattered because his wife Charley has left him. And so he tells his life story on a tape recorder. Miller, a writer, editor, and gay activist, grew up in Marshalltown, IA, as did the actress Jean Seberg. Their hometown did not appreciate them in their lifetime.
Larry Woiwode’s What I’m Going to Do, I Think, winner of the William Faulkner Foundation Award for best first novel, and Beyond the Bedroom Wall, a stunning novel about the Neumiller family, whom he also writes about in other books.
Bess Streeter Aldrich’s A Lantern in Her Hand, a remarkable pioneer novet set mostly in Nebraska, with a strong heroine, Abby Deal; and the sequel, A White Bird Flying, about Abby’s granddaughter, Laura, a teacher and aspiring writer.
Faith Sullivan’s out-of-print 1985 novel, Mrs. Demming and the Mythical Beast. This should be a cult class if it’s not. In this partly realistic, partly fantastic women’s classic, Sullivan tells the story of Larissa Demming, an artist in her late 40s. Although friends think her husband, Bart, a professor, is adorable, he’s actually stiff and dull, shut up all summer in his study writing, unsupportive of Larissa’s art. During a summer alone in Belle Riviere, Minnesota, Larissa sketches, paints, joins an ecology campaign, and opposes her investment banker daughter’s wedding. She also has a picnic with Pan, who has a major impact on her life.
Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser. A naturalist classic, this story of the struggles of a small-town girl, Carrie Meeber, to find success in Chicago, is a fast read but very depressing.
Oooh, I have Sister Carrie somewhere, I’m sure. Another one to dig out! 🙂
It’s a classic.
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More fascinating-sounding books I have never heard of! I had no idea the author of Good Night, Mr Wodehouse (which I have read) wrote a mythopoeic novel, must search that one out.
I think this was her only mythopoeic book, but I like the sound of Good Night, Mr. Wodehouse.
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Mildred Walker’s Winter Wheat is an all time favorite of mine. And although Conrad Richter was born in Pennsylvania, he wrote wonderfully about the Midwest. Have you ever read Ross Lockridge’s Raintree County? I did, once, when in college and would love to revisit one day, its huge though. It is all about Indiana in the mid 19th century. The movie did not do it justice, i thought. So many great and/or wonderful writers were from the Midwest. Have you encountered the Dicitonary of Midwestern Literature? the second volume came out late last year and there is possibly a third one coming. It is massive! The first volume is available quite reasonably second hand from Amazon and ebay, so many libraries are downsizing their reference sections and while sad for them, its good for readers like me!
Gina, I love Mildred Walker–but she was born in Philadelphia, and later lived with her husband in Montana, the setting of Winter Wheat and so many of her novles. A lot of people get their Midwestern and Western states mixed up, which is sort of my point. Reference books are lovely, but what I find astonishing is that we’re all having trouble coming up with Midwestern classics. I do know several forgotten writers of the grade B category, like Ruth Suckow, but even the graduates of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop are rarely Midwestern.
oops! oh well Winter Wheat is a wonderful read nonetheless!
I love Mildred Walker! She is one of my favorites.
Kat, although Marilynne Robinson is from Idaho, three of her fiction books (Gilead, Home, and Lila) are very much set in the Midwest. These are among my very favorite books.
Yes, I agree she counts as an Iowa writer after decades in Iowa, and she even dedicated one of them to Iowa–but I’m sure Idaho counts her, too. (We heard Robinson give a reading and it was great.) Wallace Stegner was born in Iowa but who could think of him as anything except a Western writer? And yet Iowa claims him, too. Walker, born in Philly, lived long in Montana and wrote about Montana–so she’s Philly-western? I was trying to think of Midwestern writers who wrote at least one classic about the midwest.
I’m already a big fan of Willa Cather and I have a vague memory of reading Sister Carrie many moons ago. I recently discovered William Maxwell and having read two of his wonderful novels want to read more.
Willa is my favorite, and Maxwell is in my future!
Some of my favorites include _Mrs Bridge_ and _Mr Bridge_ by Evan Connell. _Stoner_ by John Williams and _Winesburg, Ohio_ by Anderson. Toni Morrison has some books set in Ohio. I really enjoyed Jane Smiley’s _A Thousand Acres_, an update on King Lear, set in Iowa.