Monday, June 01, 2015

Chester Himes--Nathaniel Rich's American Lit fine column continues

American Dreams: How Chester Himes Invented Noir
by Nathaniel Rich from The Daily Beast

Long before he wrote the gritty Harlem crime novels that would secure his reputation, the take-no-prisoners author crafted a debut novel so dark it still unsettles.

To appreciate how radical was  If He Hollers Let Him Go, you need only compare it to Strange Fruit, Lillian Smith’s bestselling race novel of one year earlier. A gloomy parable about miscegenation in a small southern town, Strange Fruit is closer to a manifesto than a flesh-and-blood novel. Straining to win the sympathy of her white readers, Smith stacks the deck: the racist townspeople are cartoonishly ignorant and crude, while the black heroine is unerringly decorous, noble, and so light-skinned that she is mistaken for white. Smith, born to a prosperous white southern family, was a social critic and activist. Disturbed by the condition of race relations in America, she sought to change public opinion through fiction.

Chester Himes had no such hang-ups. He was a black shipyard worker who even as he built ships for his own country’s military had to endure the outrages of racism, as well as its myriad daily inconveniences, slights, and indignities. He did not have the luxury of melancholy reflection or even activism. He was only furious. His rage disfigured him, and this disfiguration is the subject of his debut novel. If Strange Fruit was a bombshell, If He Hollers Let Him Go was a knife in the ribs.

for the rest go here:
About this series:
This monthly series will chronicle the history of the American century as seen through the eyes of its novelists. The goal is to create a literary anatomy of the last century—or, to be precise, from 1900 to 2014. In each column I’ll write about a single novel and the year it was published. The novel may not be the bestselling book of the year, the most praised, or the most highly awarded—though awards do have a way of fixing an age’s conventional wisdom in aspic. The idea is to choose a novel that, looking back from a safe distance, seems most accurately, and eloquently, to speak for the time in which it was written. Other than that there are few rules. I won’t pick any stinkers. — Nathaniel Rich
Previous Selections
1902—Brewster’s Millions by George Barr McCutcheon
1912—The Autobiography of an Ex-Coloured Man by James Weldon Johnson
1922—Babbitt by Sinclair Lewis
1932—Tobacco Road by Erskine Caldwell
1942—A Time to Be Born by Dawn Powell
1952—Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
1962—One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey
1972—The Stepford Wives by Ira Levin
1982—The Mosquito Coast by Paul Theroux
1992—Clockers by Richard Price
2002—Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
2012—Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain
1903—The Call of the Wild by Jack London
1913—O Pioneers! By Willa Cather
1923—Black Oxen by Gertrude Atherton
1933—Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathanael West
1943—Two Serious Ladies by Jane Bowles
1953—Junky by William S. Burroughs
1963—The Group by Mary McCarthy
1973—The Princess Bride by William Goldman
1983—Meditations in Green by Stephen Wright
1993—The Road to Wellville by T.C. Boyle
2003—The Known World by Edward P. Jones
2013—Equilateral by Ken Kalfus
1904—The Golden Bowl by Henry James
1914—Penrod by Booth Tarkington
1924—So Big by Edna Ferber
1934—Appointment in Samarra by John O’Hara
1944—Strange Fruit by Lillian Smith
1954—The Bad Seed by William March
1964—Herzog by Saul Bellow
1974—Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig
1984—Neuromancer by William Gibson
1994—The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields
2004—The Plot Against America by Philip Roth
2014—The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina HenrĂ­quez
1905—The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton
1915—Herland by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
1925—Gentlemen Prefer Blondes by Anita Loos
1935—Pylon by William Faulkneri

1 comment:

pattinase (abbott) said...

I have not read CH but have read a lot of this very good list.