Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Jonathan Evison

Jonathan Evison is the author of All About Lulu, which won the Washington State Book Award. In 2009, he was the recipient of a Richard Buckley Fellowship from the Christopher Isherwood Foundation.

His latest novel is West of Here.

Not so long ago I asked him what he was reading. His reply:
Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All by Allan Gurganus

Recently, I've been revisiting Allan Gurganus's brilliant Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All. Usually when I mention this debut, a lot is made of the splash it created in 1989, spending eight months on the New York Times bestseller list, and selling (I believe) over four million copies. People often recall the dreadful CBS mini-series with Cicely Tyson. Or that their mom read it. What seems to get overlooked twenty-some years later is what a major literary achievement OLCWTA is. I'd number it among the best handful of debuts I ever read, along with one of my favorite southern novels. I'd number it among the best voice novels of the twentieth century. And make no mistake, Gurganus has a shit-ton of voice. We're talking voice stylings of Twainian proportions. I'm not big on writing exposition (it's enough of a chore to write my own!), so if you haven't read OLCWTA, and I should pique your interest with this post, by all means do yourself a favor and read up on it—better yet, just trust me, and get your hands on the book. All you need to know is that narrator Lucy Marsden, the oldest living confederate widow, will imprint you indelibly with her wit, and wisdom, and charm. And lordy, can she spin an unforgettable yarn. I'd be hard pressed to think of another title with this much literary merit, that has sold anywhere near what this novel sold in the past twenty years. I hear far more people talking about what a great debut Chabon's The Mysteries of Pittsburgh ('88) was, though Gurganus's debut is far more mature, complex, sophisticated, and memorable. Is this because Gurganus enjoyed too much commercial success (the scarlet letter of literary fiction)? Or is it because Gurganus has failed to keep his profile up—not producing enough work, and living in relative obscurity for a man of his talents? Whatever the case, Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All was built to last, and I, for one, hope it does.
Visit Jonathan Evison's website.

Jonathan Evison's six favorite books.

The Page 99 Test: All About Lulu.

--Marshal Zeringue