Thursday, March 19, 2009

One-book authors

In the Times of London, Luke Leitch compiles a list of literary one-hit wonders (h/t: Mark Sarvas):

• Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird.
• Margaret Mitchell, Gone With the Wind.
• Emily Brontë, Wuthering Heights.
• J. D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye.
• Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray.
• John Kennedy Toole, A Confederacy of Dunces.
• Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar.
• Anna Sewell, Black Beauty.
• Boris Pasternak, Dr. Zhivago.
• Arundhati Roy, The God of Small Things.

Commentators suggested Leonard Gardner’s Fat City, Giuseppe di Lampedusa’s Leopard, and Ken Kesey. (Wrong. Kesey published Sometimes a Great Notion two years after One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest, and then published two more novels back to back in the nineties: Sailor Song and Last Go Round.)

The obvious name missing from the list is Ralph Ellison, who was never able to follow up Invisible Man. Despite his late-in-life conquering of writer’s block, Henry Roth was really a one-book author. Call It Sleep was written by a different man from whatever garrulous old bachelor uncle wrote Mercy of a Rude Stream six decades later.

Cyril Connolly’s satirical novel about the literary intelligentsia, The Rock Pool (1936), was not merely the sole novel of his career, but at just over one hundred and fifty pages it was barely long enough to be considered a novel at all.

The Fathers (1938) was Allen Tate’s only novel.

Milton Steinberg wrote a novel about the Amoraic age, As a Driven Leaf (1939), but though he wrote a great deal of non-fiction on Jewish subjects, he did not live long enough to write a second novel.

Isaac Rosenfeld had time to write only one novel, Passage from Home (1946), about a young Jewish intellectual’s growing up, before he died at thirty-eight. He also wrote a remarkable short novel called The Colony, however.

Lionel Trilling never managed to finish a second novel after The Middle of the Journey (1947).

Randall Jarrell’s brilliant Pictures from an Institution (1954), easily the greatest (and far and away the funniest) novel ever written about academe, was followed by two more books of poetry, but no more fiction before Jarrell committed suicide in 1965. His friend John Berryman likewise wrote a single novel, Recovery (1973), which was published posthumously.

John Okada’s No-No Boy (1957) is the best novel about the Japanese-American experience, but it is the only book Okada ever wrote.

Norman Fruchter published a fine novel about aging, Coat upon a Stick (1962), and then never wrote another.

Robert Granat wrote a thoughtful novel of the religious life, Regenesis (1972), described by Anatole Broyard as a novel that should “satisfy even those whose taste runs to the secular,” and then disappeared from the Republic of Letters.

Daniel James wrote a novel about an East L.A. graffiti artist under the name Danny Santiago, but when he was unmasked a year later as an “Anglo” rather than the author of the most authentic Chicano novel yet published, Famous All Over Town (1983) became the work of a one-book author.


Ravishankar S said...

Nicely compiled and very informative. Thank you for the list.

Anonymous said...

Harold Bloom has also not written any novels after Flight to Lucifer. :)

Bilal Zubedi said...

This list is very nice because it covers so many authors; quite interesting and informative. Really it shows that alot of effort has been put in.

Tim Shey said...

Robert Granat wrote two books that I know of: "The Important Thing" and "Regenesis"; I really enjoyed "Regenesis." Granat also wrote a short story "My Apples" which won an O. Henry Award, I believe, in 1958.

I wrote a book on hitchhiking and my Christian faith; it was published in 2008: "High Plains Drifter: A Hitchhiking Journey Across America."

tonyplaysthemambo said...

J.D. Salinger wrote more than one book, or do you not consider "Franny and Zooey" a novel?

English books online said...

Truly wonderful post..loved it!!

Anonymous said...

Edgar Allan Poe only wrote one complete novel, "The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket." It's completely overshadowed by his very memorable short stories and poetry, largely because it was very forgettable.