Posted July 7, 2014 by in Awesome Books

American Novels: Which One Best Captures Our Spirit?

This past weekend was the pinnacle of patriotism throughout our country. America’s Fourth of July is the annual call to celebrate what it is that we cherish about living in the U.S.A., whether it be our freedom, our food, or even our fireworks.

Sitting outside, watching the animated nighttime sky become just about every shade of color that I can imagine, and listening to the nearby waters, I thought about everything that makes America what it is today. We are all different. I got that one easily. Just look around. Then, if by chance that doesn’t do it, listen. People always talk about differences, and I think a lot of the time these eccentricities are what we choose to focus on. For this post, I want to try something different. I want to think about what it is that makes all of us united in this America. What is it that we share? And, of course, what novel best captures the spirit of the shared American experiences?

Many novels touch on American life. The Pulitzer Prize celebrates this very theme. I sat down to think about what American life actually means. I thought for a while and decided that, as a people, we struggle, we hurt, we fight, we love, and we hope. Immediately, I knew the book that captures my personal perception of American life: Michael Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay.

The Amazing Adventures of Kavlier & Clay takes place before, during, and after World War II. The story begins with Sammy Klayman, a teenage New Yorker, taking on the responsibility of helping his immigrant cousin, Josef “Joe” Kavalier, adapt to an evolving America. As a newfound pair of aspiring Americans, they struggle together. Jointly, they form a bond over the possibilities of comics and magic—what it can do for them and what they can do for it. Then, they create a business plan and set out to capture their dreams. They still struggle, but the fight in them outlasts the challenging world around them. Sammy and Joe both encounter love; they even find it through the same woman for a time. Sexual identity is a theme Chabon explores, and it’s handled with deft precision and asks what love can mean. Chabon’s concluding message is one of hope. It’s a novel that challenges us to seek what we want and to love while we can; it’s a story that tells us that we can achieve more together than we can apart; it’s a work that shows us that we can escape the bad—and still make it out alive. Kavalier & Clay, at its core, is about bonds and perseverance.

To me, there is no greater American work of fiction. Released at the turn of the millennium, in 2000, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay is the novel that best depicts my interpretation of America’s tenacity.

So, Bookkaholics, which American novel did you think about this Independence Day? Which one best describes the American spirit?

Bradley Sides

Bradley Sides is a graduate of the M. A. in English program from the University of North Alabama. His fiction appears in Belle Rêve Literary Journal, Birmingham Arts Journal, Boston Literary Magazine, Freedom Fiction Journal, Inwood Indiana, and Used Gravitrons. He is a contributor to Bookkaholic. He resides in Florence, Alabama, with his wife, and he is actively seeking representation for his debut middle-grade novel.