Writing about Slate writing about the Times writing about recent fiction
The New York Times conducted a survey to determine the best American fiction of the last 25 years (register irony). Beloved was the top selection, Roth had six books make the short list, and what would have been my pick had I been given a vote (Blood Meridian) scored an Honorable Mention. I miss Mason & Dixon. For a more extensive discussion of the list, see Jim's blog.
Slate critic Meghan O'Rourke argues against a perceived big-book bias; when she finally offers some short works worthy of consideration, however, she does something odd:
"Among the ones I'd begin by nominating for our parallel tradition are, in addition to Housekeeping, Denis Johnson's Angels (Philip Roth called it "a small masterpiece"), James Salter's A Sport and a Pastime, Elizabeth Hardwick's Sleepless Nights, Edmund White's Forgetting Elena, Walker Percy's The Moviegoer, and (going further back), Sherwood Anderson's Winesburg, Ohio. When it comes to celebrating the American novel, thinking big is only a form of being small-minded."
Only one of these works is from the last 25 years (Johnson's Angels); the rest (not just Winesburg, Ohio) are out of the scope of the Times' list. I understand she's setting up an alternate tradition, but if the point of the piece is a critique of the Times' survey, then shouldn't she have offered a list of books that were eligible but not included? As it is, she seems to prove the validity of the list's bias.