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Masterpieces & New Favorites

by Professor Dale Cosper, French

* Try re-reading the works of Albert Camus now that the Soviet bloc has self-destructed (The Rebel), the rats of terrorism have visited a new plague upon us (The Plague), and our nihilism metastasizes each day with new virulence (The Myth of Sisyphus). When you ponder the enigmatic American Taliban John Walker, read “The Renegade” from The Exile and the Kingdom. Never has Camus seemed more cogent, topical, even prophetic. You might want to start with the long awaited new translation of The Plague by Robin Buss (Penguin, 2000).

Many discovered the works of Cormac McCarthy when he won the National Book Award in 1993 for All the Pretty Horses. Maybe you saw the film and read the other two volumes of the The Border Trilogy (The Crossing and Cities of the Plain, Knopf). Cormac’s best work was written much earlier, beginning in 1965 with The Orchard Keeper. His masterpiece, and, I believe, a masterpiece of the American novel, is Suttree (1979), situated, as are his early works, in his native Tennessee. Texas and Mexico became the scenes of his novels beginning with Blood Meridian (1985), my second favorite Cormac novel. You should be forewarned that Cormac’s worldview is at best penumbral. In Child of God he actually succeeds in getting us to feel compassion for a necrophiliac!

* Lastly, consider two more recent works. If one judges a book by its first sentence, which I occasionally (too hastily) do, you’ve got to like this one: “If I could tell you only one thing about my life it would be this: when I was seven years old the mailman ran over my head.” Brady Udall’s The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint (Norton, 2001) is a wonderful picaresque, Dickensian page-turner. Aphasiac due to his encounter with the mailman’s Jeep, Edgar finds his way back to words by means of an old Hermes Jubilee typewriter on which he composes the story we read. His journey away from the San Carlos Apache Reservation and his alcoholic mother and toward the secrets of his non-historic being makes absorbing reading. You will care deeply about this tough, resil-ient little guy and his improbable friends and foes. This is Udall’s first novel. His earlier collection of short stories, Letting Loose the Hounds (Norton, 1997), is also first rate.

* Much of the best contemporary American literature is being written, I would argue, in and about the American West (Stegner’s arid West). The very best is written by those who have their roots there (some things you just can’t fake!) Mark Spragg’s collection of essays Where Rivers Change Direction (University of Utah Press, 1999) is the real deal. Spragg writes of his youth on the oldest dude and guiding ranch in Wyoming on the Shoshone National Forest much as Norman MacLean wrote of his adolescence and young manhood in the big timber of western Montana. My favorite is “My Sister’s Boots,” but “In Praise of Horses” is a close second. These stories are for those who know the difference.


Dale Cosper, Professor of Foreign Languages and Literatures














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