10 Great American Novel Contenders From the Past Decade

This morning, we woke up to a poll over at Publisher’s Weekly‘s blog, PWxyz, asking readers to identify the Great American Novel. Fun! While we have no beef with the books on PWxyz’s list, we did notice that only two of the options — Edward P. Jones’s The Known World and Junot Díaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao — were published in the last decade. Are there no more than two worthy contenders for Great American Novel status from recent years? We think there are — at least if we take Michael Gorra’s description of the GAN as our jumping-off point: these are not just great novels written by Americans, but “novels that tell us things we don’t especially want to hear, that are restless and brave and never complacent in examining the terms of our national identity.” After the jump, our picks for ten books that should at least be in the running for that shifty, subjective Great American Novel moniker.


Netherland, Joseph O’Neill (2008)

Despite (or perhaps on account of) its somewhat unlikely premise — a Dutchman living in post-9/11 New York City who takes up cricket at the Staten Island Cricket Club — this book was much lauded for its dissection of American life, the perils of globalization, and the struggle for connection in a complex time. New York Times Book Review senior editor Dwight Garner called it “the wittiest, angriest, most exacting and most desolate work of fiction we’ve yet had about life in New York and London after the World Trade Center fell,” and James Wood described it as a “postcolonial re-writing of The Great Gatsby.” Even Obama read it. Can’t get any more American than that.