Here we go with our list of the greatest American Novels. This is a herculean task, and when you do a top ten list in this category, it's almost impossible to not leave off a worthy tome.
8. The Sound and the Fury, William Faulkner. Faulkner, the anti-Hemingway for his stream of consciousness writing style, is arguably the South's greatest writer. As a Nobel Laureate, Faulkner's greatness was recognized in 1952. The thirty year destruction and decompensation of the Compson Family of Jefferson, Mississippi, told in four distinct sections from four perspectives- all brothers in the family- including from a brother (Benjy) who is mentally handicapped, is astounding in the breadth and scope of the writing and styles. Whereas James Joyce failed (gasp!) in our opinion of this type of loose writing style in Ulysses, Faulkner triumphs. Family, the south, tragic lives, and history, all unfold in one of the very best southern novels ever written. (Not so) Honourable mention: Ulysses, James Joyce. Google any top novel list and Joyce's Ulysses is almost always at the top spot. Which is wonderful, except that Joyce is unreadable. Like the parable of the Emperor with no clothes, everyone raves about Ulysses and Joyce, but no one has actually read the damn novel and finished it and understood it. We call it as we read it. Faulkner makes out top ten; Joyce most certainly does not.
9. The Invisible Man, Ralph Ellison. The social protest novel? NO. An intellectual exploration of, not the plight of African Americans in the Southern United States (which is a given in the Novel), but the plight of the human race. The intellectual and philosophical choices an unnamed African American man is faced with as he matures are the vehicle for the book(the novel is told in the first person, with an unnamed narrator looking back on his life. The influence of Dostovesky's Notes From Underground, in both the use of the unnamed narrator, and the narrator's style, is unmistakeable). Ellison's disappointment in Marxism as a political avenue for freedom for African Americans is a theme which unmasked, reveals the shortcomings of Marxism as a political system in toto. And that is the genius of the book: the obvious plight of blacks in America is merely the anvil upon which Ellison hammers out his exploration of philosophy and the human condition. That is why this novel, and not Ayn Rand's two works, makes the list. A life changing scene? If the famous "Battle Royal" scene doesn't affect your view of human nature, nothing will. This is a masterpiece of a novel and it is a novel that exemplifies why writers can change the world. Honourable mention: George Orwell's 1984: Another English writer excluded because of our American-centric rules. Thank goodness, because how do you choose between 1984 and The Invisible Man?
10. The Old Man and the Sea. Hemingway.
A top ten list without Hemingway? Well, actually, conceivably yes. This is his only story we have been able to make it through. Personally, while we admire Hemingway, we just don't like his writing style. But this novel, especially for our locale, resonates. It's a complete little story. Extremely well done. By a great American Novelist. Honourable mention: John Updike and John Irving. Great American novelists. They have novels that easily make the top twenty five. But they can't squeak into the top ten. Also honourable mention: Remains of the Day and 100 Years Of solitude. Two of our our all time favourite novels. Kazuo Ishiguro and Gabriel Garcia Marquez are incomparably great writers. They are giants in the field of fiction. As are Vladimir Nabakov (Lolita) and E.M Forester (A Passage to India, Howard's End). Powerful novels. Spectacular. Life changing. But this is a list of Great American Novels by American authors, so thankfully they don't have to fight to make the list.
Sneak Preview: Ulysses, James Joyce. The greatest novel of all time, or un-readable babble?