Daniel Tor­days novel­la The Sen­su­al­ist won the 2012 Nation­al Jew­ish Book Award in Out­stand­ing Debut Fic­tion. His debut nov­el, The Last Flight of Poxl West, will be pub­lished by St. Martin’s Press in 2015. He will be blog­ging here all week for Jew­ish Book Coun­cil and MyJew­ish­Learn­ing.

I’m biased, hav­ing recent­ly pub­lished a novel­la with strong Jew­ish themes. And this is deeply unsci­en­tif­ic and prob­a­bly not defen­si­ble. But I’ll just say it unequiv­o­cal­ly and then back off if need be: the most time­less, last­ing novel­las of the sec­ond half of the 20th cen­tu­ry were writ­ten by Jew­ish novel­la-writ­ers. With apolo­gies to Jim Har­ri­son and Denis John­son, whose novel­las I love and teach, it seems to me that Philip Roth and Saul Bel­low are the two major nov­el­lists (the prop­er epi­thet for the novel­la writer) of the past six­ty years. You’d be hard-pressed to put Philip Roth’s Good­bye, Colum­bus” and Saul Bellow’s Seize the Day up against vir­tu­al­ly any oth­er novel­la of their epoch and find them want­i­ng. Those novel­las have grown to be foun­da­tion­al texts of their times, cor­ner­stones of those two major Jew­ish Amer­i­can writ­ers’ oeuvres. 

But more than that, what dis­tin­guish­es Roth and Bel­low as nov­el­lists is the sheer quan­ti­ty and qual­i­ty of novel­las each pub­lished — fre­quent­ly. A quick perusal of the TOC of Bellow’s Col­lect­ed Sto­ries turns up near­ly as many novel­las as sto­ries” — The Bel­larosa Con­nec­tion,” which was pub­lished stand-alone; A Theft,” one of the Nobel-winner’s finest; What Kind of Day Did You Have?” clock­ing in at 70-plus small-print pages. And after the small mas­ter­pieces of his mid-career gave us the 86 pages of The Prague Orgy, 96 pages of The Breast, and the speedy The Ghost Writer, the back half of Roth’s cel­e­brat­ed late-career out­put finds the hope­ful­ly-future-Nobelist (a fan can dream, can’t he?) alter­nat­ing big nov­els with quick strike novel­las pub­lished as nov­els”: The Dying Ani­mal and Every­man.

Now none of this is to asperse those great mid-to-late cen­tu­ry gen­tile short-nov­els we can’t but read with envy: Tobias Wolff’s The Bar­racks Thief, the famous novel­las of Mar­quez and the short mas­ter­pieces of Don DeLil­lo (which, OK, maybe start to poke some boule­vard-size holes in my the­o­ry, but this is a blog post, after all, and far from com­pre­hen­sive). And if we’re mov­ing back more toward, say, 1940, I’ll read each piece of Faulkner’s Go Down Moses and If I For­get Thee, Jerusalem again as soon as I get a chance (while try­ing not to make too much of their Old Tes­ta­men­ty titles). 

But I’ll just end by say­ing that if there was a Jew­ish-ish writer of the mid-cen­tu­ry who gives Roth and Bel­low a real run for their mon­ey, we might need look no fur­ther than… JD Salinger. No one seems to claim Salinger as a Jew­ish Writer” — cer­tain­ly not the way we do Roth or Bel­low — though the influ­ence suf­fus­es the Glass fam­i­ly, who like their cre­ator were the scion of a Jew­ish father and gen­tile moth­er. Still: each part of Fran­ny and Zooey, my favorite parts of Raise High the Roof Beam, Car­pen­ters and Sey­mour: An Intro­duc­tion— those I’ll go back to soon. And again. Right after my next run-through of that heav­i­ly Salinger-influ­enced novel­la I’ll always call my favorite: Good­bye, Columbus.” 

Read more about Daniel Tor­day’s The Sen­su­al­ist here.

Relat­ed: West and Schwartz, Dream­ing at the Movies” by Ilan Mochari.

Daniel Tor­day is the author of the nov­el The Last Flight of Poxl West, a New York Times Book Review Edi­tor’s Choice, and an Inter­na­tion­al Dublin Lit­er­ary Award nom­i­nee. Tor­day’s work has appeared in The New York Times, NPR, The Paris Review Dai­ly and Tin House, and has been hon­ored in both the Best Amer­i­can Short Sto­ries and Best Amer­i­can Essays series. He was longlist­ed for the 2020 Simpson/​Joyce Car­ol Oates Lit­er­ary Prize. A two-time Nation­al Jew­ish Book Awardee and win­ner the 2017 Sami Rohr Choice Prize, Tor­day is Direc­tor of Cre­ative Writ­ing at Bryn Mawr Col­lege. His sec­ond nov­el, Boomer1, is out now from St. Mar­t­in’s Press.