american novels

  • Couples by John Updike

    The landscape of Couples (Alfred A. Kopf, 1968) is the post-pill paradise of  Middle Class America, and features many of the most well-drawn characters you would never want to know. 

    You have to marvel at Updike’s own criticism of his books. Couples, he said,’ is not about sex as such: It's about sex as the emergent religion, as the only thing left.’ (John Updike, "Appendix: One Big Interview," Picked-Up Pieces, New York: Knopf, 1975. p. 505. )

  • In the Beginning by Chaim Potok

    chaim potok in the beginningChaim Potok is better known for the novels The Chosen and The Promise, and the Asher Lev books, but In The Beginning is just as powerful and adds sufficiently more in terms of the Jewish experience in America and how that related to events in Europe, that it may even be his best.

    The background to the novel is the initial exodus of Polish Jews from Europe to America in the wake of The Lwów pogrom (also called the Lemberg pogrom) which took place in November, 1918.

    What is special about In The Beginning is how well Chaim Potok describes childhood, particularly the very early years of this boy’s life.  It is a very patient book and this reflects the slow awakening that children experience, in this case vastly heightened as the young character David is awakened to Jewishness, to his family’s own history, his own ill-health and what is to become a lifelong study of Talmud, in an effort to establish some kind of truth about himself and life.

  • Redburn by Herman Melville

    It’s odd that people who read Moby Dick don’t go on to find out more about Herman Melville; but that was his fate in his lifetime too.  In fact, after achieving a supersonic literary success in the late 1840s, Herman Melville's popularity declined in the 1850s and never recovered.

    Worse, when he died in 1891, he was almost completely forgotten and even the 20th Century revival only dropped Moby Dick and Billy Budd into our must-read lists, and pretty much ignored the other great titles, such as my favourite, The Confidence Man.