What Are Some Modern Authors With Their Own Unique Writing Style
November 29, 2004 9:15 AM   Subscribe

I recall reading an article critizing some of today's popular writers (Clancy and King were two I recall) for being bland or suffering from too much Strunk and White. What then are some modern writers who gush with their own, unique style?

That second sentence should be "Who then..."
posted by grefo to Writing & Language (36 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I defer to authority. David Mamet recommends John le Carré, George Higgins and Patrick O'Brian.
posted by cribcage at 9:35 AM on November 29, 2004

pretty much any author i enjoy fits that description: toni morrison, arundhati roy, salman rushdie, etc. a number of mefites seem to dislike dave eggers, but his style is certainly recognizable. going a little further back, faulkner, nabokov, and virginia woolfe (especially "the waves") broke ground with their unique styles.

as snobby as this may sound, books classified as "literature" tend to be more carefully written than books like clancy's and king's, which are written quickly to appeal to a wide audience.
posted by equipoise at 9:38 AM on November 29, 2004

If popular writers or writing is a requirement, then I'm not sure who to point to. Setting that aside for the moment I'd say that Chabon, Franzen, Foster Wallace, Z. Smith, and Eggers are all good and of a given kind. I don't know if they qualify as popular writing though both Chabon and Franzen seem to have had a lot of press. It seems to me that someone who likes Clancy and King, don't know if you do, might find something of interest in Foster Wallace or his stylistic forerunners DeLillo (another link) and Pynchon (both of whom I'd recommend over Eggers, Franzen and Smith).

Russell Banks writing is on a different planet stylistically and is cozy, in the best way, with Strunk and White at times, but his work never ceases to engage and move me. Particularly, The Sweet Hereafter and Cloudsplitter.

Apologies in advance if I just reviewed your home library, and I'd never argue with Mamet.
posted by safetyfork at 9:39 AM on November 29, 2004

Russell Banks' writing... or Russell Banks's writing..., but most certainly not Russell Banks writing.... I should've been apologizing for that.
posted by safetyfork at 9:42 AM on November 29, 2004

Sheila Heti.
posted by Fuzzy Monster at 9:44 AM on November 29, 2004

Le Carré is a notch above the pulpmonsters, but I wouldn't call him a true original. Higgins and O'Brian are subjects for further research. (And I can't stand Russell Banks.)

Salman Rushdie oozes his own incredible style, whether he's writing about the history of India or about some rock band he saw.

Don Delillo is the same way. You know it's him pretty much instantly.

But if you want no-one-else-writes-like-thatness, like him or not, the two that come right to mind, in very different ways, are David Foster Wallace and Mark Leyner.

Note: being that distinctive means they might not be to everyone's tastes. This holds true for everyone who will be mentioned in this thread. But you know that.
posted by chicobangs at 9:45 AM on November 29, 2004

I vote Cormac McCarthy, Charles Frazier, Isabel Allende, John Fowles, and Gabriel Garcia-Marquez. Though some may "gush" more than others.
posted by m0nm0n at 9:45 AM on November 29, 2004

I think the article is smacking King for being popular, not being bland. King has a solid, unique voice- he employs a lot of internal rhyme and repetition in his prose, and he excels at capturing the fluidity of thought

(damn it, I'm doing it again)

Without devolving into stream-of-consciousness nonsense like Joyce [ a ha, I'm going to literary hell for that one!] He also has a real gift for revelation- his short stories show this best, but you can see evidence of it in his novels as well- building on cornerstones of ordinary things that make his worlds real.

None of this is to say that King is flawless (his novels grow more and more bloated as his career continues,) but I would recognize his work anywhere- I believe it is quite distinctive (and fantastically obvious when another writer tries to ape it.)

I also think Dave Barry has a wonderfully unique style. His novels tend to get lost in digression because digression is his bread and butter, but his narrative voice has a crisp, distinct conversational tone I've never seen anywhere else. Conversational tone tends toward the parental or authoritative, but no matter what Barry writes- even when he slips to the serious- he keeps his genial, curious "everyman" voice and his attention to everyday absurdities works well for both comedy and tragedy.
posted by headspace at 10:08 AM on November 29, 2004

posted by drpynchon at 10:11 AM on November 29, 2004

Mamet, James Ellroy, Stephen Dixon, Hubert Selby Jr., Kathe Koja...
posted by dobbs at 10:22 AM on November 29, 2004

I echo the Allende and Marquez recommended by m0nm0n above. If you're looking for 'unique' styles, you might enjoy checking out some other post-colonial writers. Arundhati Roy is a great place to begin. And while reading works in translation has its own pitfalls, another language does have a 'voice' which may come through despite the Strunk and White.
posted by pants at 10:24 AM on November 29, 2004

I have to repeat DFW. I adore the man; and while Infinite Jest may not be for everybody, both 'Brief Interviews' and 'Supposedly Fun Thing' are generally accessible, and stunning.

His last book, Oblivion, has been getting poor reviews; I had heard his, but it was only when I went to look for them now that it really hit me. People don't like the book.

Listen: It's wonderful. The thing about Oblivion is that it's painful to read. One of the stories in the middle, Incarnations of Burnt Children, is maybe two pages long; but it manages to be one of the most moving, horrible (in all the proper ways) pieces of prose I've ever read.

Seriously. Some of the others aren't as good; but he also manages to write more or less the definitive suicide story, perfect to the point where suicide has stopped being valid subject matter, it's just done, it's over. He's finished it.

I realize I'm probably sounding really over the top, at the moment. I apologize. Oh, did I mention the first story, Mr. Squishy? Wonderful and funny and twisted and sad but funny, so funny... and I mean you have to work at it, it isn't handed to you, but oh, it just all comes together so well....


So, uh, you might want to check him out. Just, you know, if you're bored or something.
posted by cmyr at 10:27 AM on November 29, 2004

Interesting question! I'll toss out some of the usual suspects I do everytime there's a ReadMe.

Jonathan Lethem - Amnesia Moon and As She Climbed Across the Table both have a very particular dreamlike quality to them. There's a certain wistfulness to Lethem's writing (you can even see it in his recent piece in the New Yorker or Harper's [read them both on the plane this weekend, can't remember which one off the top of my head]).

Gregory Mcdonald - If you've read Fletch then you know how much he loves dialogue and how he paces it in his own special way. The ideas presented also reflect his style (he likes his heroes to be simple people in complex worlds).
posted by robocop is bleeding at 10:31 AM on November 29, 2004

Richard Powers and Angela Carter both make me feel like they're taking me out for a dance when I read them. John Crowley, Donald Barthelme and Richard Brautigan may seem gimmicky to some, but reading them is like taking a long nap in a field in the sunshine. David Fuckin' Wallace taught a class I was in, and really has a sense of first person narrative, as do Shirley Jackson and Dorothy Allison. I'll also second recommendations for Delillo, Banks, Marquez, McCarthy and Allende, though Pynchon is really hit or miss for me.
posted by jessamyn at 10:39 AM on November 29, 2004

I don't read much fiction, but, (although it's his first, and who knows what else he's got in 'im?), DBC Pierre knocked me sideways.
posted by punilux at 10:42 AM on November 29, 2004

I'll also second Lethem, but my preference is Motherless Brooklyn.

I have to repeat DFW. I adore the man; and while Infinite Jest may not be for everybody, both 'Brief Interviews' and 'Supposedly Fun Thing' are generally accessible, and stunning.

Agreed. His short stuff is his best if you ask me... And his nonfiction is a gem. That essay on David Lynch still rocks my world every time I read it.
posted by drpynchon at 10:50 AM on November 29, 2004

Ain't nobody who writes like William Vollman.
posted by Dr. Wu at 10:54 AM on November 29, 2004

Wow. Don't blame it on Strunk and White. I can think of any number of writers who technically adhere to the advice therein, yet have style and personality overflowing. If your idea of flouting Strunk and White with a unique style is awkward run-on sentences, then read Michael Chabon and count the number of times you have to stop mid-sentence to figure out exactly what that clause modifies. Someone should beat him over the head with Strunk and White. Pulitzer, indeed.
posted by Shane at 10:56 AM on November 29, 2004

3 of my favorites are:
Douglas Coupland (Generation X, Microserfs) his non fiction stuff is REALLY REALLY good too.

Chuck Palahniuk (Fight Club, Choke)

Nick Hornsby (High Fidelity, Songbook)
posted by ShawnString at 10:57 AM on November 29, 2004

Writing with a strong style can easily slip into self-consciously clever writing. It's a fine line to walk, and I have set down books because I felt on a particular day that they had crossed that line.

A lot of people have set aside Tom Robbins for that same reason, but I really groove on his stuff. (Stay away from Villa Incognito which seems like it was written under deadline.)
posted by booth at 12:18 PM on November 29, 2004

I'll second the DBC Pierre suggestion, I really loved that book. I'll also fifth or sixth the David Foster Wallace comments, being a fanboy myself. I have not seen Helen DeWitt mentioned, her book The Last Samurai was easily one of the top three books I've read, ever. And of course Bukowski has a very unique style, don't forget about him!
posted by vito90 at 12:39 PM on November 29, 2004

A couple genre suggestions: Elmore Leonard, Jack Vance.
posted by russilwvong at 12:48 PM on November 29, 2004

Nicholson Baker
posted by togdon at 1:07 PM on November 29, 2004

For a distinctive voice - William T Vollman. + DF Wallace & Cormac McCarthy as recommended above
posted by James_in_London at 1:08 PM on November 29, 2004

Chuck Palahniuk's brand of what he calls minimalist writing strikes quite a chord with me. I hardly think he invented the style, but his use of it leads to great clarity... the best description I can think of, is that his words aren't so much absorbed as they pierce your skull - every sentence carries enough punch to get through on its own.
posted by blindcarboncopy at 4:32 PM on November 29, 2004

Because no one seems to have called him out, Mark Leyner, for chrissakes.

And a holy hell yeah to Lethem.
posted by undule at 4:33 PM on November 29, 2004

Ha, King and Clancy aren't bland because of Strunk and White--they're bland because they write the same books over... and over... and over.... This is why "The Shining" and "Hunt for Red October" are good, while the recent books are snoozes.

More recently:

- David Foster Wallace (again--Infinite Jest)
- W. G. Sebald (Austerlitz)
- Edmund White (Forgetting Elena)

Less recently:

- Joyce Carol Oates (Blonde)
- Thomas Pynchon (Mason & Dixon)
- Raymond Chandler (The Big Sleep)
- Raymond Carver (any collection)

Old school:

- James Joyce (literary hell indeed, headspace--read Dubliners!)
- Virginia Woolf
- Ernest Hemingway

Obviously the older writers aren't to your question, and I suppose none of these folks are pop writers (though they are all big geniuses, way better than Clancy). In a more pop vein, someone like Neal Stephenson (Snow Crash) would be a great pick.
posted by josh at 5:00 PM on November 29, 2004

Gertrude Stein is the anti-Strunk.
posted by bingo at 5:16 PM on November 29, 2004

Gary Lutz.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 5:32 PM on November 29, 2004

In no particular order, with favorite books cited: Barbara Kingsolver (The Poisonwood Bible), Chris Offutt (The Same River Twice), Annie Dillard (Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, For the Time Being), Michael Perry (Population: 485), Haven Kimmel (A Girl Named Zippy, Something Rising Light & Swift), Lee Smith (Saving Grace, The Last Girls), Bill Bryson (A Walk in the Woods, In a Sunburned Country), Tony Horwitz (Confederates in the Attic, Baghdad Without a Map), Kurt Vonnegut (Slaughterhouse 5, Welcome to the Monkey House), Bailey White (Sleeping at the Starlite Motel, Mama Makes Up Her Mind), and the late great Douglas Adams (Hitchhikers Guide).
posted by naomi at 7:35 PM on November 29, 2004

Another genre writer: David Gemmel, for his excellent economic use of language.
posted by elphTeq at 11:01 PM on November 29, 2004

mark z danielewski (house of leaves)
bill burroughs (the western lands)
georges perec (life a user's manual)
julio cortazar (hopscotch)
louis aragon (paris peasant)
posted by juv3nal at 1:27 AM on November 30, 2004

In addition to those mentioned above: Thomas Ligotti (recently mentioned in the blue), and Michael Cisco.
posted by misteraitch at 1:55 AM on November 30, 2004

Annie Proulx
posted by vitpil at 6:04 AM on November 30, 2004

I'll second the calls for Nicholson Baker and Georges Perec.

If you want modern writers with unique style (visual as well as textual; he's an accomplished artist as well as one of the best writers of the last century), then anything by Alasdair Gray should suffice; start with Lanark. This unofficial site has some explanation of what makes it such a wonderful book, and includes some of Gray's illustrations. Or you can see some of the original drafts and manuscripts that Gray produced for the novel here.

There's also Gray's fellow Glaswegian, James Kelman, who can be a bit heavy going at times (Translated Accounts is one heavy, if rewarding, slog of a read), but who is also one of the great writers of vernacular dialogue; A Disaffection and How Late It Was, How Late, are probably the best places to start with him. (There's some biographical information, and links to interviews, to be found here.)
posted by Len at 8:53 AM on November 30, 2004

Arthur Nersesian
posted by nulledge at 9:59 AM on November 30, 2004

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