Sunday, June 20, 2010

The Great American Novel?

This is the copy of "Native Son" I got. After some research I found out it is not a true first edition. Though it says FIRST EDITION on the copyright page, the book was published earlier that year with a different book jacket. Still, it's quite a find.

It reminds me that during the middle of the 20th century there was a quest by novelists to write The Great American Novel, the piece of fiction that would define who we are and what we stand for. No one ever wrote it, but it was a tantalizing quest. After the upheaval of the 1960's and the burnout of the 1970's no one talked about it any more. It was only after I read "Native Son" and Ralph Ellison's astonishing and brilliant "Invisible Man" that I realized The Great American Novel could only be written by someone who lived in the United States but was denied access to its mainstream; someone who could see American life but was not fully a part of it. To truly "see" America for what it is, one has to have it dangled before one's face but not be able to grasp it. And that was the reality of African Americans in the 20th century. "Native Son" and "Invisible Man" come closer to realizing the goal of being The Great American Novel than anything else written by any other American writer.

Friday, June 18, 2010

My wife and I went to this used bookstore in Kent Connecticut recently. Everything was half price. They must be going out of business because the prices were low as it is. A few years ago I got an 1854 two volume edition of Nathaniel Hawthorne's "Mosses from an old Manse" for $15.o0! This last time I got a first edition "Native Son" by Richard Wright, with the paper cover, for less than the price of a new paperback. Anyone on the Eastern Seaboard should go there as fast as they can before it closes. It's a great bookstore, it's a tragedy that it's closing, but it is to the buyer's advantage.

Monday, June 7, 2010

More Agnes Owens

The book I read was "The Complete Short Stories of Agnes Owens." At the time I purchased it (from a vendor overseas), the book was not available in the United States. I don't know if it is available now or not. What I do know is that the New York Public Library is circulating only one copy of one of her novels. She is well worth seeking out.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Agnes Owens

A few years ago I briefly subscribed to The Scottish Review of Books. It introduced me to some authors I had never heard of, the most memorable being Agnes Owens. Agnes Owens could be compared to Charles Bukowski; she writes about the indigent, homeless, semi-homeless alcoholics, drug addicts and all around lowlifes. To compare her to someone else, however, cheapens her unique qualities. Her first short story, Arabella, is, by turns, horrifying, repellent and hilarious. She has a memorable view of the human condition.

If I have read correctly, Ms. Owens has been a house cleaner among other low paying jobs. I don't know her state right now, but I get the distinct feeling that she writes from experience in telling tales of dole-cheaters and boozy layabouts. She has had several novels published in the U.S., but I have not read them as yet. She is one of those hidden treasures that people thrill to discover. Truthfully, some people I have urged to read her stories have come back to me puzzled. They recognized her talent but did not appreciate it as much as I. One can only hope her day will come.