Baxter, Coupland, Freudenberger, more

Charles Baxter, an acclaimed writer, lives in Minneapolis. Emily Eakin suggests that his Midwesternness prevents him from achieving literary stardom:

despite his enviable track record and a new novel, “Saul and Patsy” (Pantheon) due out Sept. 9, he remains surprisingly obscure, less read and talked about than writers of comparable — or arguably lesser — accomplishment.

Part of the explanation may lie with the label “Midwestern” and the mostly dubious associations it implies that hover over his fiction like, well, storm clouds over the prairie….

In Mr. Baxter’s case the Midwestern label has less do with geography than style, denoting a sensibility that seems stubbornly impervious to fashion. Subtle forays into the lives of ordinary people, his stories lack the verbal pyrotechnics, formal gimmicks and overweening social ambition that have lately become prerequisites for buzz and the stock in trade of hot novelists like Dave Eggers, Jonathan Franzen and Jonathan Safran Foer. To use the words routinely invoked by admiring critics, Mr. Baxter’s books are luminous investigations of the prosaic — quiet, gracious and deeply felt.

I think I disagree with the premise: that the Midwest is too dull to warrant serious attention. I like the one or two Baxter stories I’ve read. It’s true that I haven’t picked up any collections or novels, but to blame the Midwest for the fact that his books aren’t blockbuster sellers hardly seems fair.

What of the hugely popular Garrison Keillor, who has made a name for himself with his stories about prosaic Midwestern life? And turning for a moment to Ms. Eakin’s own examples: Dave Eggers grew up in Illinois, and the first half, at least, of his memoir is devoted to his life there; Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections takes place partly in a fictional town in the Midwest, the family homestead.

Moving along, Robert Birnbaum talks with Douglas Coupland about Hey Nostradamus!, Canada, Greg Gatenby’s retirement, and more.

A brief excerpt of Nell Freudenberger’s Lucky Girls is available here. The Literary Saloon rounds up the positive reviews and notes that Ms. Freudenberger is reading tonight in New York City at Three Lives.

Says Peter Wild, at Bookslut:

If the thought of Madonna writing stories for children doesn’t make your heart cough choke and splutter to a dead stop (there’s a real Puritan in me screaming to get out), you can read more about it here

How to bind a hardcover book. (Via Things.)


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