Recommended Reading: Jayne Anne Phillips
The Ransom Center recently acquired the papers of American writer Jayne Anne Phillips. She shares her recommended reading.
The Blue Flower by Penelope Fitzgerald
Fitzgerald attended Oxford on scholarship and raised three children before she began writing concise, elliptical novels at sixty. Her masterpiece, 225 pages in 55 chapters, concerns a few years in the young life of Novalis, the German poet and philosopher, known in 1790's provincial Saxony as impoverished young nobleman Friedrich von Hardenberg. Fitzgerald follows his harrowing love affair with the doomed Sophie von Kuhn, an ordinary adolescent to whom "Fritz" is unofficially engaged when she is 13 and he 23. The narrative subtly opens into glorious and revelatory questions on life, genius, purpose; Fitzgerald's use of telling detail is magical, impossible, exhilarating. The Blue Flower is not "about" its story; it is the flower itself.
Stories by Breece D'J Pancake
(Little Brown & Co., 1983)
Born and raised in Milton, West Virginia, Pancake published many of these stories in The Atlantic before ending his own life at 26 in 1979. Deft, tone-perfect, layered with striations of dark and light not unlike the Appalachian ground he evokes, Pancake's stories, in their masterly evocation of a misunderstood place and time, comprise no less than an American Dubliners.
Stop-time by Frank Conroy
(Viking Press, 1967)
Published in 1965 as autobiography rather than memoir, Conroy's prose remains translucent, subtly clarified, conveyed with such emotional authority that every measured line is punctuated with an implied and musical silence. Stop-time is a text on control, pitch, and tense, the past as present and the present as past. The writer reclaims the lonely, brilliant boy whose acute perceptions set him apart, whose crazy, absent father leaves him the library that will become his lifeline. Conroy, an accomplished jazz musician and mentor to dozens of writers as Director of the University of Iowa's Writer's Workshop, prevailed. His timeless American account of growing up is a classic...
They Came Like Swallows by William Maxwell
Maxwell unraveled his own half-remembered childhood to write this novel of his mother's death, when he was seven, in the 1918 flu epidemic, thus assuring his own psychic survival and his evolution as an American master. The points of view of son, brother, husband, circle one another like constellations composed of the same darkness, shot through with transformation.
Fat City by Leonard Gardner
(Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1969)
Gardner's only book, a study in hope and anguish published in 1969, concerns "retired" boxer Billy Tully and beautiful, callow young fighter, Ernie Munger. Set in the bars, buses, gyms, and transit hotels of gritty, fifties' era Stockton, California, Fat City is a perfect document, mapped and studied, the dialogue memorized, by generations of writers. The well-known film (written by Gardner for John Huston), only approaches the spare timelessness of Gardner's prose.