The State of the Evan Dara Affinity

A notification from WordPress reminded me that this quixotic, Google-averse site turned 1 last month, with zero fanfare. The mission—which was cobbled together during last year’s Super Bowl between the Patriots and the Falcons—remains the same: to offer a forward operating base for supporters of Evan Dara, with an emphasis on collecting the articles, links, and resources which might slip through the digital cracks. And if, in the process, we can gently convince a few dozen/hundred/thousand/million readers to try The Lost Scrapbook, The Easy Chain, and/or Flee, all the better.

However, this blog has neither the reach nor the rep needed to move the literary needle more than a nanometer or nudge Dara’s name into the broader conversation. Frankly, it’s a testament to his work and the power of word-of-tweet that he’s earned and maintained his place along the periphery of the post-modern pantheon, recommended by/to fans of Gaddis, David Foster Wallace, and Richard Powers once their corpora is consumed.  But his station is far from secure, and I fear that the inconsistent trickle of gleaming Goodreads reviews may not be enough to adequately broaden the audience so that he doesn’t fall into the land of the unread.

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A book tunnel in Prague’s library. Petr Kratochvil

There are two major barriers that are hindering this enterprise. One, obviously, is his pseudonymity.  As noted on his Wikipedia page, Dara puts other shadowy or reclusive authors to shame, since, unlike the most famous pseudonymous writer of our time, Elena Ferrante, Dara has never given an interview or broken his media silence, aside from brief responses to writers like Steven Moore and Tom LeClair.  This heightens the mystery surrounding him, but, without the backstory of Salinger or Pynchon, or the fairly rich perspective of Ferrante (who is forthcoming in her interviews and her weekend columns for The Guardian), there’s nothing to sustain speculation aside from what he’s set down in print.

The second issue stems from the lack of a trusted advocate, whether a writer or reviewer, who can use their pulpit to propel new interest in his books. In the late 90s, for instance, every Charles Portis book not named True Grit was out of print, a state of affairs that Ron Rosenbaum rightfully found intolerable.  Although he was unsuccessful in tracking down and interviewing the elusive master, Rosenbaum wound up writing an article for Esquire, “Our Least Known Great Novelist,” which introduced a new generation of readers (present company included) to the pleasures of Portis’s prose, and subsequently led the good folks of Overlook Press to rectify the situation.

There have been other stories over the years that followed Rosenbaum’s template—or, if nothing else, jacked the headline—but rescuing a writer from the insatiable jaws of obscurity requires timing and luck (or what Gaddis called “the unswerving punctuality of chance”).

Dwight Garner has made a practice of it with his American Beauties column in The New York Times, where he “writes about undersung American books of the past 75 years.”  The gems he’s celebrated range from Stanley Elkin’s The Dick Gibson Show (“It’s among the most powerful and funny American novels I know”) to Chuck Berry: The Autobiography (“His sentences pop, as if he had a Coolerator crammed with them. He writes about the world like a man noticing everything for the first time”).  But even from this elevated platform, Garner’s calls aren’t always answered, considering that titles like Berry’s remain out-of-print.

Nonetheless, our mission would clearly benefit from the likes of a Rosenbaum or a Garner or a Kakutani or a Dirda to help make the case that the novels of Evan Dara are ripe for discovery.  Until then, we will continue our campaign from this committed corner.  We are your pamphleteer.

 

 

 

 

 

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