Obscure current authors you love.

Ann Patchett has written four books so far. Her most recent is called Bel Canto. It’s about a bunch of terrorists who hold a party hostage in South America where one of the hostages is an opera singer.

It’s beautiful, lyric, and tragic.

My favorite of hers, though, is the Magician’s Assistant. Said assistant had her magician, a gay man, die of AIDS. She then finds out that he had a family that she never knew about and goes to visit them.

I’m not doing them any justice by describing them. But I would recommend any of her books without hesitation. She’s a marvel, and I find myself re-reading her books quite frequently.

Dopers, is there anyone you’d like to lift from obscurity? I’m looking for a good read.

Henry Green. Not an author who’s exactly obscure, but he’s not nearly as well known as he should be. Short novels that often might be described as “ensemble pieces”: the place to start is a compilation published some years back of his three best books, Living, Loving & Party Going, & these each elaborate a little microcosm of human activity & interaction: the first among the workers at a foundry, the second among the servants in an English household in Ireland during the War, the last among a group of travellers stranded at a train station during a pea-soup fog that shuts down the trains. Except for Loving these books use an oddly particle-free prose style which is surprisingly effective (that is, Green very often omits the words “a”, “an” & “the”).

Ronald Firbank is worth reading too, though perhaps an acquired taste. It’s been a while, but I remember being most impressed by The Flower Beneath the Foot.

If you want REALLY obscure work I can start to rhyme off poets (JH Prynne, Lynette Roberts, Rosemary Tonks…)–but probably this isn’t going to be the kind of stuff you’ll want to grab for a casual read. Though Tonks’s Notes on Cafes and Bedrooms & Iliad of Broken Sentences really are a lot of fun–worth a read. She also wrote a bunch of novels which I’ve never read but am told are worth a look.

It depends on how you define “obscure,” I guess, but I’m a big fan of James Morrow’s work. He takes on serious issues, often about God, and makes them hilarious as well as thought-provoking.

Mark Frost wrote a couple of mysteries with a supernatural twist. Most people know his TV work (i.e., Twin Peaks), but not his novels.

Jack McDevitt never fails to write a great story with well drawn characters.

Toni L.P. Kelner

She writes Southern Mysteries (she calls the “iced-tea cozies”) featuring a Southern sleuth who lives in Boston with her New England Shakespeare-quoting professor husband.

I love her stuff. And I’d never have found out about her, were it not for the fact that ran into her in the children’s play area of a local shopping mall. Somehow, I knew this lady was a writer. I had no idea who she was, and had never seen her before. So I went up and asked her. She was! And she had a brochure with her. I’ve since gotten hold of all of her books (even the out-of-print ones), and have asked her author advice over the internet.

Barbra Gowdy.

Her books that I’ve read (We so seldom look on love; The White Bone; Fallen Angels; and one that I can’t remember the name of right now - DOH!) are excellent.

The characters are always…Characters.

Excellent writing, IMHO.

Ok these are young adult reader books but they are very funny and IMHO much better than those Harry Potter books.

He is writing a series of melodramatic tales about three orphans and how they must outsmart their evil relative Count Olaf who is trying to get the fortune left to them by their parents and he will stop at nothing to do so. The kids are Violet, who likes to invent things age 14, Klaus, who likes to do research age 12 and Sunny who likes to bite things. Sunny is an infant.

Klaus and Sunny?


I’m obscure, I’m current, and how I love me!

Tim Sandlin: Sets most, if not all his books in Wyoming and, despite having high literary value, has a cast of insane characters that make the dialog and scene descriptions funny and engaging. Few people turn a phrase better, and I can’t find any current authors who can make me laugh while actually processing themes and values.

**Christopher Moore **: More than just a brilliant author, an email buddy of mine. (Note to self: Send Chris a note.) His books all involve “horror” themes, but they’re side-splittingly funny. Another author who brilliantly turns a phrase, and who, in his book “Bloodsucking Fiends” achieved the incredibly rare achievement of writing a perfect paragraph, both structurally and stylistically.

Perfect phrases are fairly easy. Perfect sentences happen often in a good work. Perfect paragraphs are nearly impossible, and any author who can craft one deserves to have all his books purchased for the rest of his/her life, in my less than humble opinion as a writer who has not, yet, crafted a perfect paragraph.

I’ve been a little disappointed in his last few books, but the first name that comes to mind is Donald Harington. His books have sold well enough that the last several have stayed in print since publication, but not well enough for him to become any kind of sensation. The best of the novels is probably The Architecture of the Arkansas Ozarks, the story of a century and a half in the life of the barely fictional hamlet of Stay More, Arkansas, as reflected in its buildings. Stay More is Harington’s Yoknapatawpha County, the fictional but precisely located place where nearly all of Harington’s books are at least partially set. Having lived within ten miles of Stay More’s putative location, I can vouch for the accuracy of Harington’s portrait of both the people and places of Newton County, Arkansas. But that’s not really the point. Harington uses the specifics of the Ozarks to deal with universals, sometimes more successfully than others.

The real gem among Harington’s works is a non-fiction book that’s utterly unclassifiable otherwise. Let Us Build Us A City: Eleven Lost Towns explores the history of elevent towns scattered all over Arkansas that have the word “City” in their names, and which are now anything but cities. It’s about the hopes, dreams, and ambitions of the people of these towns (sometimes grandiose, sometimes extremely modest). Several years before Let Us Build Us A City, Harington had written a novel called Some Other Place, The Right Place, in which a couple explores ghost towns (literally, as the girl’s grandfather’s ghost occupies some of them). LUBUAC opens with Harington’s description of receiving a letter from a woman in his home state of Arkansas, a schoolteacher, who has read and loved Some Other Place and proposes to emulate its characters by traveling around the state exploring some of its “lost towns”. With his long-distance guidance (he’s lecturing at a university in Montana at the time), she does so, filling him in by letter on her experiences. He provides details from his own researches. The book plays out as an astonishing love story in its own right, while treating such nearly forgotten historical episodes as the wreck of the steamboat Sultana (with a loss of life rivalled only by the Titanic), forgotten folk legends like Peter Mankins, and of course, forgotten places. There’s an enormous amount of historical information in this book, but it’s the sort you don’t find much of elsewhere: what the lives and deaths of very ordinary people in very ordinary places were like, and what the effect of the occasional extraordinary people or events on them is.

Among the other novels, particular mention should be made of The Cockroaches of Stay More, a pastiche of Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles, told as the history of Stay More’s insect inhabitants.

Harington’s trademark stylistic conceit is that the last chapter of each novel is in the future tense; he claims to hate endings, and avoids them in this way. Each novel tends to have some identifiable literary ancestor (Tess for Cockroaches, One Hundred Years of Solitude for Architecture, Lolita for Ekaterina, etc.); in the more successful novels this deepens and enriches the experience, in the less successful ones it just seems clever for its own sake.

There’s a long and detailed appreciation of Harington’s work by Steve Reed at http://home.earthlink.net/~jsr007/DHarticle.html .