Thursday January 6th, 2011

Catching Up With the Best of 1961

Jim Hanas has a New Year’s resolution this site can get behind: For a project he’s calling “NBA Minus 50,” he’s going to read (and write about) all 12 fiction nominees for the 1961 National Book Award. The group includes some very familiar titles — To Kill a Mockingbird, Rabbit, Run, and The Violent Bear It Away — but also some obscure titles, like Ceremony in Lone Tree by Wright Morris, Mildred Walker’s The Body of a Young Man, and that year’s winner, The Waters of Kronos by Conrad Richter.

A couple of years ago, on the National Book Awards site, Harold Augenbraum wrote of Richter’s novel:

The book begins with a nod to realism. A man returns to the vicinity of his hometown, which is now under water from its flooding to create a hydroelectric dam (Richter, says the New York Times, “lamented progress”). Though the town is submerged, the graves have been moved to higher ground (hint, hint). The man, John Donner (John Donne? The Donner Party? You tell me.) walks through the cemetery, and when he gets to the other side, he hitches a ride with a man in a wagon, past where the water should be, into the town itself. We quickly realize that we have been thrown backwards in time. Donner is an old man who revisits his childhood. Weird. Intriguing. Thought-provoking. If Proust had written Brigadoon, it would be The Waters of Kronos.