1970s

The Seventies was that time after the Hippies and before Reagan; it was the time of disco and the Eagles.  Here are six excellent novels from that time. 

“Listening to Billie” by Alice Adams (1977)   -  Seeing and hearing Billie Holiday sing in a New York nightclub when she was young in the 1930s and 1940s must have been an incredible experience, because Billie’s live performances have made their way into several novels.  In “Listening to Billie”, the scenes with Billie Holiday are almost magical.  I still remember them vividly.  Billie Holiday singing in New York in 1938 even made it into another excellent novel I read recently, “Rules of Civility” by Amor Towles.  Adams was one of the best short story writers as well as an excellent novelist.  Alice Adams is probably the United States writer most worthy and due for a strong revival.

 “The Ballroom of Romance” by William Trevor (1972) – Speaking of short stories, if you like William Trevor’s recent novels and stories, you really should read these early stories.  I’ve noticed Trevor’s writing has gotten more sparse, rural, and somber as the years have gone by.  I prefer his early works which are busy and happy and usually take place in the city, often about young office guys and gals getting together.    

 “Fifth Business” by Robertson Davies (1970) -  This novel, the first of the Deptford Trilogy, probably spurred my early interest in fiction more than any other novel.   “Fifth Business” led me to realize that there were wonderful novels by writers I had never heard of out there, not written by the usual over-praised suspects.  The entire Deptford Trilogy is excellent.

“There is no nonsense so gross that society will not, at some time, make a doctrine of it and defend it with every weapon of communal stupidity.”

                                                                                       Robertson Davies

 “Chilly Scenes of Winter” by Anne Beattie (1976) – I had already read some of the minimalist stories of Raymond Carver, but “Chilly Scenes of Winter” was my first minimalist novel.  “Chilly” is one of those books that picks you up and enchants you until the last page.   Anne Beattie is sometimes considered the voice of the post-hippie generation that came of age in the 1970s. 

“Quite often my narrator or protagonist may be a man, but I’m not sure he’s the more interesting character, or if the more complex character isn’t the woman.” – Anne Beattie

 “The Dogs of March” by Ernest Hebert (1979) -   a rural regional realistic novel from New Hampshire that is several cuts above most rural regional novels. This novel is like that junked old car that sits in the backyard rusting, broken windows with flat tires or no tires.  Back in its day that car might have been the scene of a lot of exciting times. 

 “Searching for Caleb” by Anne Tyler (1975) – I doubt Anne Tyler will be forgotten, but I must mention “Searching for Caleb”.  Anne Tyler was almost like a religion for me.  Her characters go their own ways. They usually succeed despite or because of their eccentricities.  “Searching for Caleb” is among Tyler’s best.  I still keep up with her work.  After reading several of her novels in the early Eighties, I went back and read her early work like “A Slipping-Down Life” (1970) which is crude but powerful.

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