Some Nearly Forgotten Novels from the 1970s that are Exceptionally Good

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.


10 responses to this post.

  1. I’ve enjoyed your series of nearly forgotten novels and this one is no exception Tony. I particularly like the fact that I’ve heard and even read most of the authors – well, Trevor, Davies and Tyler – but not the books you mention. I like Tyler too and have read several of her novels – but not this one. I’ve only read one Davies, Cunning man, which I enjoyed a lot but haven’t managed yet to read more of his work. The Beattie sounds like it could be up my alley – even if I didn’t feel drawn to minimalism, just the title and cover would attract me! (I might steal this forgotten idea for some future Monday musings – if I do I’ll credit you. Is that ok?)


    • WhisperingGums, Almost forgotten Australian novels, that sounds fun and interesting. Go for it. I forgot to copyright the word ‘forgotten’, so you are most welcome to use it. I discovered all these writers when I was first discovering fiction, and consequently they all loom larger than life.
      I haven’t read ‘Cunning Man’, and that might be one I’ll consider when I return to Davies. I haven’t always liked Ann Beattie’s work, but ‘Chilly Scenes of Winter’ I was completely able to enjoy.


      • Silly you … then I probably will steal the word “forgotten”!

        My daughter is currently housesitting my parents place and found an Anne Tyler on the shelves that I gave my mum a few years ago. She rang me not long after I commented on your post and told me how much she is loving the Tyler. Synchronicities hit again!


  2. Tony, I’m proud to say I’ve read all of these except the Hebert. What are the odds? I guess I read a lot of contemporary fiction in the ’70s.

    I had completely forgotten about Alice Adams. She was one of my favorite writers, and I’m looking at the shelf where her books used to be and hoping I didn’t give them away.
    I can feel some Alice Adams books yearning. I hope I can find them at the library, because it looks as though I idiotically weeded them.


    • Hi Frisbee,
      Five out of six, Wow, impressive. Alice Adams was a really great short story writer, That was what she was most famous for, but her novels were excellent too. What she could do in 10-15 pages was amazing. She had 22 stories that made it into the annual O’Henry Awards collections


  3. “Rural, regional novel” is an excellent description for a certain class of books that I’ve always been vaguely interested in but have never really sought out. I’ll admit that I’ve heard of none of these books (and obviously read none…) but I’m interested in your method of choosing what books qualify as nearly forgotten. Maybe it’s just because I’m too young to have a full backlog (and pretty much all the books I read are either established classics or relatively recent releases), but I don’t think I’d ever be able to pinpoint books I think have been forgotten. How do you pick the titles?


    • Hi Biblibio,
      Somehow, starting about 1973, I had the good sense to write down every fiction book I read with the title, the author, the year it was published, and my own personal rating. So when I prepare these lists I look for books that were published during the decade that the list is for to which I gave my highest rating. Then from those, I will select the ones that I remember most fondly, trying to pick authors that I haven’t heard too much about recently. When doing a decade like the 1970s, you can pretty much assume almost every novel published then is nearly forgotten.


  4. You know, my book club was just talking about how so few books will be remembered in 10 or 20 years, so this is an interesting list. I’ve added a few of the books to my list of books to buy.

    I wanted to ask you if would be interested in participating in a blog tour for Seth Steinzor’s To Join the Lost, which is a a modern retelling of Dante’s Inferno in narrative verse. If you’re interested, send me an email and I’ll send you more info.


    • Hi Trish,
      I would be very happy to participate in the blog tour for ‘To Join the Lost’ especially since this is a verse novel and is a re-telling of Dante’s Inferno.
      I went to your site, but so far have had difficulty finding your email address.
      Please send me details of when I would be reading this novel.


  5. Oh, crud. Sorry my contact info wasn’t easier to find! You can email me at


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