None of these arguments would be worth rehashing if the dead man’s sentences, written in what he liked to call “. English,” weren’t still so gloriously alive. There was something in him that could absorb American language in all its registers and compound it into a voice that in its every deployment said more about the country than whatever Wallace himself happened to be saying. One of the most frequently aired complaints about Wallace was that he was a show-off, that his own voice drowned out those of his characters, that there was something self-indulgent about his massive forays into antic cultural comedy. But I think he knew, having the self he had, the only thing to do with it was to put it to work, like crippled Hephaestus, hammering together his warped and magnificent books.
Of course Didion also gets two on this list. If you have not read this classic, do so now. It tracks our culture's — and the author's — transition out of the cataclysmic era that was the late '60s into something else much darker. It also contains an unforgettable image of Jim Morrison wearing black vinyl pants. Find it in the collection of the same name.
[ In the following excerpted survey of Stegner's short fiction, Eisinger declares the author indecisive .]
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