Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Wright Morris

Regional literature, often uninteresting to mainstream publishers, maps the fictional history and geography of the country between NY and California: the midwest, south, and west; of farms, small towns, and unknown cities. The work of regional writers Susan Glaspell and Dorothy Canfield Fisher has recently been revived: Glaspell perhaps by Updike's inclusion of her work in The Best American Short Stories of the 20th Century, and Canfield Fisher by small presses in the U.S. and England.

Wright Morris’s The Loneliness of the Long Distance Writer (2 novels) was reissued by Black Sparrow Press (before it was bought up by a mega-publisher). This exceptionally good writer is virtually unknown

The Works of Love, published in the '50s, is the terrifyingly sad story of Will Brady, a man with no connections, because of the geography that shapes him. Born on the empty plains of Nebraska in a dugout, Will grows up in the town of Indian Bow, where there is "a depot, a cattle loader, several square frame houses with clapboard privies; and later there were stores with pressed tin ceilings along the tracks." When he moves to the tiny town of Carbury (Will takes a train; trains and hotels are the connection in the novel for lonely ), working at the hotel seems the height of sophistication. But he wants and needs a wife. Where does he look for one? The town whorehouse, where he "connects" with the same woman every weekend. When he proposes, all the women laugh at him. A young prostitute with whom he has never had sex leaves her baby behind with his name on it: he raises the son as his own.

He is lonely and passive. He marries a rich woman who initiates the marriage but who is terrified of sex. Is this marriage normal? He doesn't know. Later he marries a young woman who is closer to his son's age than him: they hang out in the front room all day while he works.

Obviously influenced by Willa Cather, Morris is a good writer, yet there is something sentimental about his attempts at humor. His lonely protagonist has a bleak life, yet Morris tries sometimes to instill hope that isn’t there. But sometimes he gets it just right.

Though Morris won the National Book Award twice, one must look to small presses for his books: Bison Books publishes Plains Song (a Natl book award winner), a moving saga of three generations of Nebraska women; The Home Place, and Ceremony in Lone Tree. The University of Nebraska Press publishes Field Vision and The Works of Love.

Wright was also a photographer and a few of his books of photograpy are avialable (most out of print). Here is one of his quintessential Nebraskan photos:


Ellen said...

I wouldn't have much patience for this kind of book. I don't know what people see in Kerouac either. It's the other side of _Huckleberry Finn_: you light out for the territories. But it's meaningless, lots of mosquitoes too.


Mad Housewife said...

Morris reminds me of Dreiser, and you have to be in the mood for them. Dreiser has better plots, Morris is the better writer, but the effect is the same: a look at the dark side.