Recently Chapman University professor and author Tom Zoellner (formerly of Arizona) wrote an article “Why is there no great Arizona novel?” which appeared on August 3, 2015 in the Phoenix New Times. Here’s the link to the article: http://www.phoenixnewtimes.com/arts/why-is-there-no-great-arizona-novel-7530944
Many of us remember Tom Zoellner for writing that gripping nonfiction Tucson book “A Safeway in Tucson” about the Tucson Tragedy mass shooting and assassination attempt on then-CD 8 Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, and the killing of 6 and wounding of 13 others. Many of us knew Gabby (as did Zoellner on her campaign trails), and I even recently played mah jong with one of the victims.
In his article Zoellner raised the provocative question about there being no great Arizona novel. I pondered this myself during the Arizona Centennial in 2012, when the UA published this list “Arizona 100: Essential Books of the Centennial”: http://speccoll.library.arizona.edu/online-exhibits-dynamic/az100/docs/brochure.pdf. At that time I thought that Edward Abbey’s “The Monkey Wrench Gang” which is #1 on that list was probably the best of the fiction included. Zoellner does list Abbey’s book as one of his 15 suggestions on the bottom of his article. Here’s Zoellner’s list:
15 Candidates for the Great Arizona Novel
Blood Meridian, by Cormac McCarthy (Random House, 1985) A kid from Tennessee falls in with a gang of scalp hunters that slaughters its way across the Southwest
Waiting to Exhale, by Terry McMillan (Signet, 1992) Four African-American women look for love in Phoenix but find stronger solace in female friendship.
The Bean Trees, by Barbara Kingsolver (Harper & Row, 1988) A plucky woman from Kentucky finds adopted motherhood and family among a group of helpful strangers in Tucson.
Laughing Boy, by Oliver La Farge (Houghton Mifflin, 1929) A young Navajo rider falls in love with a boarding school girl and they navigate a difficult marriage.
Apache, by Will Levington Comfort (E.P. Dutton, 1931) The chief Mangas Colorados unites his people in southeast Arizona but faces ultimate tragedy against the U.S. Army.
Warlock, by Oakley Hall (Viking, 1958) A chaotic silver mining town tries to restore order by hiring a brash gunslinger as a marshal, and things get even worse. Based on the events at the O.K. Corral at Tombstone.
The Circus of Dr. Lao, by Charles Finney (Viking, 1935) A mysterious showman arrives in the fictional town of Abalone, Arizona — a pioneering work of speculative fiction written by a copy editor at the Arizona Daily Star.
The Monkey Wrench Game, by Edward Abbey (Lippincott, 1975) Four unlikely friends decide to blow up the Glen Canyon Dam and raise massive hell along the way.
Modern Ranch Living, by Mark Jude Poirier (Bloomsbury, 2006) Disconnected residents of a gated community move in and out of each other’s lives.
The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint, by Brady Udall (Vintage, 2001) A half-Apache boy gets shuttled between bad schools and foster homes while being pursued by the doctor who saved his life.
Concrete Desert, by Jon Talton (Minotaur, 2001) A historian takes a job as a Maricopa County sheriff’s detective and gets sucked into a cold case that suddenly gets hot.
Half Broke Horses, by Jeanette Walls (Scribner, 2008) The fictionalized story of the author’s grandmother growing up poor and raising children on a huge Arizona ranch.
Bless the Beasts & the Children, by Glendon Swarthout (Doubleday, 1970) Six angsty boys at a punitive cowboy ranch in northern Arizona plot to free a herd of buffalo.
I confess to say I haven’t read most of the other suggested novels, but I may have to now. I can’t recommend “The Circus of Dr. Lao” which I (as an Asian American) found somewhat racist regarding the characterization of the Chinese Dr. Lao (especially by today’s standards but probably not back in Arizona of 1935).
My German professor husband recommends a German bestseller “The Oil Prince”, written in 1893/4 by Karl Friedrich May, about a crooked businessman who tries to con a gullible banker. It is supposedly a travel tale set in 1860s Arizona with Old Shatterhand and his Apache blood brother Chief Winnetou.
Want to hear more? — drive up north to Phoenix for a panel discussion tonight moderated by Zoellner, on this subject at Changing Hands Bookstore, 300 W. Camelback Rd. at 7 p.m. More info: http://www.phoenixnewtimes.com/arts/tom-zoellner-explores-why-theres-no-great-arizona-novel-at-changing-hands-in-phoenix-7544295