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.