When an author's powers wane
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Sadly, there are some contemporary authors I once loved who seem to lack the skills now that they've aged. Is this a theory most everyone would agree with, or can you think of wonderful examples (exceptions?) where an author's later work shone as well as her/his earlier?
I would also offer some easy names: Joyce, Gaddis, Gass, Beckett. Of non-English writers (aside from Beckett) I would guess that Vargas Llosa has a later novel to rival his second best earlier work, The War of the End of the World; R.K. Narayan wrote in English but was Indian and remained steady to near the end; Garcia Marquez spread his powers around after The Autumn of the Patriarch; Antonio Lobo Antunes shows no signs of wear; Vitomil Zupan kept going as long as he was healthy; Dosteovsky's best were his latest; Cendrars had a spectacular run in the '40s, when he must have been in his 60s, etc.
But that's not to say all authors are anywhere near alike in this respect. Who can explain the life and inspiration of Rimbaud? And what about the one book (for the most part) authors like Musil?
These questions are often interesting, but no answer is near accurate. Henry Miller didn't get published until he was 40 (I think, maybe older). So I would advise any 42 year old to, to paraphrase an old Greek history mentor, sit his ass down and write that novel. And the next one.
I've not yet read James Salter, having just learned of him within the last year or so, but the various reviews I've read and interviews I've heard, seem to indicate he's as strong in his late 70s as he was early on.
So I'd summarize by betting it's about evenly split between authors who maintain their powers into their later years, those who are best in their youth, and those who hit their stride after a considerable amount of work.
A related question: I wonder if publishing has been biased toward one or another author, either historically or perhaps just now? I could see the bias being there, in the adjudged "marketability" rather than in the work of the author.
Another amazing writer who wrote til he died old, amazingly overlooked: Raja Rao.
I used to write for an e-zine that was specifically focused on writers who published their first book(s) after the age of forty, ei "Late Bloomers." There was never a shortage of material.
My favorite first time writers are:
Frank McCourt, 66
Allan Gurganis, 42
Annie Proulx, 57
Isak Dineson, 50
Harriet Doerr, 73/4
Katherine Anne Porter, 72
Norman McLean, 74
Helen Hoover Santmyer, 88
Surprising authors of later in life first novels:
Laura Ingalls Wilder, 64
Raymond Chandler, 51
George Sand, 50
Are you an aspiring literary late-bloomer? There's a website for you.
I went to Washington with Linda (his longtime companion), and we went to the various museums. In the National Gallery, there was a Henry Moore carving. I had written a book about Henry Moore. A guide came out and said, “That’s Henry Moore, and there’s more of them here and there.” Thank you.
An hour or two later, we had lunch; this is the National Gallery. When we came out from lunch, the same guy was there. My legs have no balance, and Linda was pushing me in a wheelchair. The same guy asked Linda, “Did you like your lunch?” And Linda said, yes. Then he bent down to me in the wheelchair, stuck his finger out, waggled it, and then he got a hideous grin and said, “Did we have a good din-din?”
You mentioned skills and aging and it popped into my head. Here's this well-respected former U.S. poet laureate; and some asshat treats him like a drooling idiot because he is in a wheelchair. No one deserves to be treated less than human, no matter the circumstances.
In the interview, Hall also talks about his slow decline in writing poetry (after 60 yrs of writing it) and subsequent switch to prose.
Edit - I am loving the Bloom web site, thanks for that.
My question is, at 94 when she died, is it fair to cite "Pemberley" as a waning book? Just from the title, I'd say it was a slap at all the dreadful Jane Austen knock-offs that have plagued book stores in the last 5 years. Perhaps her message was, "Time to get over yourselves and find your own characters, plots, and creative milieu, people." Or it could have been a veiled warning to other mystery writers not to resurrect Dalgliesh and Gray into some watery version not really their own.
A tid-bit about James. . .I read in a Guardian article a while ago (don't remember who wrote it) that she was a member of the House of Lords and apparently her votes or speeches indicated she was homophobic.
Who knew? Gives me an idea for a new topic.