The author I wish everyone was reading (but next to nobody in this country is) would be Charles Baxter.
Baxter is an American writer with awards coming out of his ears over there. His work has been compared to Anton Chekhov, William Trevor and Alice Munro. Personally, I prefer him to all three, and I do know what high praise that is.
As you might expect from those comparisons he’s an accomplished short-story writer, and fans of the short form should all own a copy of his collection Through the Safety Net, but it is the novels that have left a lasting impression on me.
In The Feast of Love, Baxter himself appears as a writer in search of story until late one night he bumps into a neighbour who suggests he write about the goings on in their small town. Sounds a bit cheesy but as the various story strands start to appear, you become completely wrapped up in them. He has the ability to sum up an entire character’s life in a short sentence. If I were looking for a lazy comparison, and I am, then I would describe him as a cross between Richard Yates and Anne Tyler.
His masterpiece, if you ask me, is Saul & Patsy. The simple story of a marriage, it manages to convey the magic, passion, boredom, pain and frustrations of that honourable estate better than any other piece of writing I have come across. It also has the greatest opening and closing chapter combination of any book I have read. Ever. I often re-read just those sections when I want to be reminded how miserable and pathetic my own writing talent is.
Do yourself a favour and order one of his books, any of them, right now. You can buy me tea and cake later to thank me.