Having just concluded reading Little Big Man to my daughter, I have a new and deeper appreciation for Thomas Berger. For whatever reason, he has been largely ignored by modern literary culture–so much, in fact, that I was unaware he died back in July.
The man wrote twenty-two novels of many different types, each one a paragon of technique, character and story. In the Updike tradition, he wrote four books featuring the same character seen over the course of several decades. He wrote a detective thriller, a few different takes on modern life, a couple of westerns and an Arthurian epic. He was versatile, he was consistent, he was prolific.
Yet, his titles neither sold as well as that of many lesser writers nor garnered the praise heaped upon others like Updike or Saul Bellow. Another favorite of mine, Trevanian aka Rodney Whittaker, was equally ignored but at least had three spectacular bestsellers to make up for it. Stephen King is a hell of good writer and rich as Croesus. Dan Brown is hands-down the worst writer I have ever seen succeed (outdoing Stephanie Meyer and Tom Clancy) and he’s hugely popular.
Berger’s writing is accessible, complex, rich and hilarious. He writes dialog better than almost anyone. So why was he ignored?