Friday, May 19, 2006

The Best Novel of the Last 25 Years?

In case you missed it, the New York Times this week announced the results of their efforts to find "the single best work of American fiction published in the last 25 years." And the winner is...

Toni Morrison, for Beloved.

Okay, I don't have a problem with that. Nor do I have a problem with the runners-up: Don DeLillo (Underworld), Cormac McCarthy (Blood Meridian), John Updike (Rabbit, Run and its many sequels), and Philip Roth (American Pastoral).

But waitaminnit. McCarthy and Updike each have four books on the list, while DeLillo has three. Meanwhile Philip Roth is the clear winner, with no less than six titles in the top 25. Is the author of Portnoy's Complaint truly the greatest living American writer?

I must confess that I gagged and upchucked on a Roth novel sometime back in the 1970s and have never looked at his fiction again. Have I been overlooking a true genius all these years? Or is the New York Times book section, as is so often the case, hopelessly out of touch? What would you pick as the best work of fiction by an American published in the last 25 years?

Note that this restriction immediately rules out a ton of enormously popular, successful, and highly influential novels, e.g., Bridget Jones' Diary. Have we reached the point where the "best novel by an American" is kind of like the Wyoming Writer's Association's award for the best novel written by someone who lives in Wyoming?