Stewart O’Nan: Our best working novelist?
Unlike anyone else, O’Nan delivers a new book every year that speaks directly to the anxieties of our fearful times
“Not much of a defensive catcher, but a great bad-ball hitter,” my companion says over the rim of his beer glass.
We’re on our third pint — at least. My companion’s literary escort, a fastidious professional in both dress and manner, checks her watch for the fourth time, smiling politely but somewhat nervously when I catch her at it. Her charge has got an 7 a.m. wakeup call, and she’s tasked with getting him to the airport on time and in one piece. It’s her job — and I’m doing my best to disrupt it.
We find ourselves at a really dumb bar in Seattle’s financial district, where I’m sitting across from the closest thing I’ve got to a living American literary idol. At 51, he still strikes a boyish cast with his high rosy cheeks, his mischievous eyes, and his well-worn Pittsburgh Pirates cap. But here’s a guy who over the past two decades has given us 13 dazzlingly dynamic novels. In an age of literary snobbery, MFA elitism and postmodern irony, all of which have helped marginalize the novel, here’s a guy who writes spectacularly without an ounce of pretension. A guy who writes about the people nobody else is writing about. An editor I know put it this way: “At a time when we are talking about class and income inequality, he’s the novelist who has best captured the shifting state of America, what it is like to live outside of cities, to wrestle with what has happened to the working and middle classes outside of shiny urban places.”
I’m sitting across from Stewart O’Nan, and I’m thinking to myself: Is this guy our best working novelist?