Thursday, September 9, 2010

On Writer Hiatuses: Wherefore Art They?

Part of the reason for the Franzen mania the last several weeks (months?), I think, is the simple fact that it's been NINE years since he last published a novel. That's a long time for fans to sit with bated breath. Before I started Freedom this week, I went back and paged through The Corrections for a few minutes, just to reminisce a bit. When I put it down, I started thinking about other novelists whose books I've enjoyed, but who haven't published in a long, long time.

Here are three that came immediately to mind:
1) Jeffrey Eugenides — The writer of the 2002 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel Middlesex hasn't published a novel since. He's published several short stories in literary mags, and has edited a collection, but no new long fiction. What gives, Jeff? I gotta believe that as well-received and still-loved as Middlesex (and The Virgin Suicides, too) is/was, when or if word hits the street that Eugenides is publishing again, the hype will approach the Franzen level. Won't be the same, but it'll approach.

2) Robert Stone — This aging American master of arts and letters hasn't published a novel since 2003's Bay of Souls — which, frankly, sucked. But I loved Stone's Damascus Gate and Children of Light, and people say Dog Soldiers is one of the all-time great war novels (it won the 1975 National Book Award). The 73-year old novelist and journalist did publish a memoir titled Prime Green: Remembering the Sixties a few years ago, as well as a volume of short stories titled Fun With Problems a week ago. But no new novel in seven years. Does the man have one left in him? I sure hope so!

3) Zadie Smith — After publishing three novels in five years between 2000 and 2005, Smith's fiction has gone silent — not even a published short story since 2007. Smith is a wonderful essayist (publishing a collection late last this year titled Changing My Mind: Occasional Essays) and seems to have found a David Foster Wallace-esque mid-career love for journalism. Come back to fiction, Zadie! Please!

Sadly, unlike musicians or movie producers, writers are usually pretty quiet about what they're working on. So who knows if any of these writers even plan to publish again. Anyone have any insight? Who is on your list of novelists who seem to be on hiatus?

(By the way, did anyone catch the cameo of Philip Roth's Portnoy's Complaint on The Daily Show last night? To make a rather satiric point about religious freedom, Jon Oliver reads one of the all time slapstick, hilarious, and disgusting scenes in all of literature. Click here and skip to about the 6:00 minute mark...if you're not easily offended.)


  1. Having looked at and not gotten interested in any of Zadie's novels, I was surprised to find that I love her essays. So I guess I should give the novels another look--surely the person who wrote "Ten Notes on Oscar Weekend" is worth another try.

  2. I have both Middlesex and The Corrections but haven't read them yet....after reading this I want to go home right now and dig right into them! One author I have been waiting patiently for is Ann-Marie MacDonald, who wrote both Fall on Your Knees and The Way the Crow Flies. I loved both of those books.

  3. Apparently Jeffrey Eugenides is working on something currently ...
    pretty exciting.

  4. The use of the word "hiatus" is tough because I am of the opinion that good writers are always writing, even when their not at the desk. Their either thinking of something, germinating an idea or recharging their batteries. There is just no pencil (or computer) present.

    That said, it is always a happy thing when they fall back into the fold. Mona Simpson is a writer who just jumped back on the book gravy train. I am half-way through her newest, My Hollywood, and it is fantastic.

  5. Oh Middlesex, I wish I could re-read it for the first time all over again. What a wonderfully well-written and thought-provoking work.

  6. 8 painful years between Nathan Englander's short story collection and 2007's "The Ministry of Special Cases." So if he stays on track I've only got, what, five years until his next book?

  7. @Jeanne - That is one of my favorite essays by her, too!

    @Jo-Jo - Ann-Marie McDonald: Good one! I've never read her, but never met anyone who didn't absolutely rave about her.

    @IngridLola - Woohoo! Thanks for the link - really interesting interview.

    @Laura - You're right, "hiatus" isn't the right word. That was more a tongue-in-cheek, out-of-a-sense-of-frustration-'cause-I-really-miss-those-writers word choice. Mona Simpson's another good example!

    @Trisha - I feel the same way...about a lot of books. That sense of anticipation before opening the cover of a book for the first time, and then finishing and looking back at that moment, is one of my favorite things about reading.

    @ellen - Nathan Englander's another good one! I actually liked The Ministry of Special Cases, but I understand that most of his fans prefer his short fiction.

  8. I completely agree on Zadie Smith - where'd she go? Although having said that I did hear a podcast with her being interviewed and she said something along the line of "I write a book when there's one in me waiting to get out" - which sounds like we could be in for a wait. Damnit.

  9. A while ago I was wondering what Eugenides' deal was and even posed the same question to a friend of mine. He thinks Jeff's in Berlin writing his magnum opus, whatever it'll be. And isn't that what's exciting about waiting for an esteemed author to bring out another? "What must he/she be *doing* with that genius brain? That's a lot of thinking."

  10. Hey Greg - I come via Trisha (eclectic/eccentric) today during BBAW.

    Couldn't agree more about Eugenides. Seems like some great authors can crank out the books (Atwood certainly doesn't ever seem to have writer's block), but some of the others makes you want to know "What gives!!"

  11. I'm so relieved to learn that Bay of Souls sucked. It was my first and only Robert Stone novel and, after hearing for years and years how great he was, I was left....less than impressed with Bay of Souls. Methinks I need to give him a second chance.

    As for writers I'd nominate for the Harper Lee Award:

    1. Lewis Nordan ("Welcome to the Arrowcatcher Fair," "Sugar Among the Freaks," et al). Simply put, he's the funniest writer you've never read. I know he's been having health problems, but I really long for a new Nordan.

    2. Z.Z. Packer ("Drinking Coffee Elsewhere"). After impressing the pants off me seven years ago with her fabulous short stories, I haven't seen a syllable from her since. Come back, Z.Z., come back!

    3. T.R. Pearson ("A Short History of a Small Place"). Another great Southern humorist like Nordan. Perhaps they're off somewhere, drinking whiskey and conspiring on how to torture us.

  12. Caleb Carr. I'm waiting and waiting, patiently as ever, for another 'alienist' book.

  13. I loved both Middlesex and Virgin Suicides. It is time for another --I agree.

  14. Ohman, I haven't been to your blog in SUCH a long time! Makes me so sad! Sorry!
    The lack of Zadie Smith and the lack of Jeffrey Eugenides also makes me sad. It's true that neither of them has published in far too long. Every time I go to the book store, I check the Smith section, just knowing there will be something new by her. And of course there never is. :-(
    I've actually never even heard of Robert Stone, and I'm wondering if this should be remedied. . .

  15. I miss Rohinton Mistry. His novel A Fine Balance is one of my favorites. It has been at least 7-8 years since he's published anything.

    I'm about to start Middlesex, I've heard so many good things about it.