15 best North American novels of all time?

Fear and Loathing, The Grapes of Wrath, Moby-Dick: The Telegraph pick the “big, brave and occasionally brash best North American novels ever written”

Best American novels of all time (clockwide from top left): JD Salinger, Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace, Tom Wolfe, For Whom the Bell Toll by Ernest Hemingway

Best American novels of all time (clockwide from top left): JD Salinger, Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace, Tom Wolfe, For Whom the Bell Toll by Ernest Hemingway
  1. The Scarlet Letter 

Nathaniel Hawthorne (1850)

Uniquely among male novelists of his era, Hawthorne’s compelling story of the callous judgment meted out to an unmarried mother by the puritans of Boston, Massachusetts, is a moving and thoughtful study of society’s ambivalent and contradictory treatment of women.

 

2. Moby-Dick

Herman Melville (1851)

“In landlessness alone resides highest truth, shoreless, indefinite as God,” says wandering sailor Ishmael, as he sets sail with vengeful Quaker Captain Ahab on the hunt for the monstrous white whale that maimed him. Fathoms deep in allusion and nautical nomenclature.

3. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

Mark Twain (1884)

Set in the geographic centre of the antebellum US, the sequel to The Adventures of Tom Sawyer is the colourful tale of an abused and motherless boy’s coming of age along the Mississippi River which wittily challenged America’s perception of itself as the “sivilized” land of the free.

4. The House of Mirth 

Edith Wharton (1905)

Caught between her entitled taste for luxury and her yearning for true love, Lily Bart, the beautiful and intelligent heroine of this acutely observed novel slowly slithers down the rungs of superficial New York society to a tragic end.

5. The Call of the Wild 

Jack London (1903)

When men “groping in the Arctic darkness” strike gold, a proud St Bernard-Scotch Collie called Buck is sold into sledgehauling slavery. It’s survival of the fittest in what E L Doctorow described as this most “fervently American” club and fang adventure.

6. The Grapes of Wrath

John Steinbeck (1939)

“I’ve done my damndest to rip a reader’s nerves to rags,” Steinbeck said of his novel about a poor family of “Okies” driven from their land in the Great Depression. It was the main reason he was awarded the 1962 Nobel Prize for Literature.

7. Independence Day

Richard Ford (1995)

The second book in Ford’s trilogy about Frank Bascombe – sportswriter turned realtor. Coiner of such quirky phrases as “happy as goats” and “solitary as Siberia” Bascombe’s been described as “America’s most convincing everyman”. Ford says he’s “asleep at the switch”.

8. The Colossus of Maroussi 

Henry Miller (1941)

This impressionistic travelogue, whose rolling, incantatory style predicted the Beat Generation, was inspired by the time Miller spent in Greece with Lawrence Durrell before the SecondWorldWar. He felt “like a cockroach” but “came home to the world” at Mycenae.

9. The Catcher in the Rye

J D Salinger (1951)

Salinger’s “sort of” autobiographical account of the misfit Holden Caulfield’s flight from his “phony” prep school is a controversial classic of adolescent angst that has inspired readers as diverse as President George HW Bush and John Lennon’s assassin Mark Chapman.

10. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

Hunter S Thompson (1971)

Described by Tom Wolfe as a “scorching epochal sensation”, this reckless, drugfuelled “gross, physical salute to the fantastic possibilities of life in this country” is a funny, furious and disorienting attack on the American Dream by the original gonzo journalist.

11. Beloved

Toni Morrison (1987)

With an epigraph of “60 Million and more” dedicated to victims of the Atlantic slave trade, this psychologically complex, Pulitzer Prize-winning novel is about a former slave who kills her infant daughter rather than allow her to be recaptured.

12. All the Pretty Horses

Cormac McCarthy (1992)

The reclusive author best known for bringing a biblical sense of evil into his portrayal of the unforgiving American landscape achieved mainstream success with this tale of a talented 16-year-old horse breaker, evicted from his Texan ranch in 1940. First in the Border Trilogy.

13. The Heart is a Lonely Hunter

Carson McCullers (1940)

The debut of a 23-year-old author, this small-town drama set in the Depression-era South tells of a teenage girl, an African-American doctor, an alcoholic socialist, and a taciturn diner owner who all think the local deaf-mute “gets” them. He doesn’t.

14. Fugitive Pieces

Anne Michaels (1996)

In this haunting narrative of a Jewish boy who hides while the Nazis take his family, the Canadian poet wrote that death first becomes believable when “You recognise the one whose loss, even contemplated, you’ll carry forever, like a sleeping child.”

15. We Need to Talk About Kevin

Lionel Shriver (2003)

Even to his mother, Kevin Katchadourian has been a creature of “opaque predilections” since birth. But she spends this novel trying to work out why her son committed a school massacre.Was her snobbery about her fellow Americans a cause?

THE OTHER CONTENDERS

Uncle Tom’s Cabin 

Harriet Beecher Stowe (1852)

The Great Gatsby

F Scott Fitzgerald (1925)

For Whom the Bell Tolls

Ernest Hemingway (1940)

Rabbit, Run

John Updike (1960)

The Color Purple

Alice Walker (1982)

The Human Stain

Philip Roth (2000)

White Noise

Don DeLillo (1985)

The Bonfire of the Vanities 

Tom Wolfe (1987)

The Shipping News 

Annie Proulx (1993)

Infinite Jest

David Foster Wallace (1996)

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/10605407/15-best-North-American-novels-of-all-time.html

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