What is it that makes a many-novel author become known mostly for one novel?
Maybe that book is their best, even though they’ve written a number of other good or great books. Maybe it’s because that most-known novel became famous partly because it was turned into a popular movie. Maybe the publisher marketed that one book more than the others. Maybe there’s no discernible reason.
I was thinking about all that last week when reading Fannie Flagg’s Standing in the Rainbow — a funny, sunny, sentimental, heartwarming novel that also seriously addresses sexism, racism, homophobia, infidelity, death, etc. And the 2002 book — which spans more than five decades of life in a small Missouri town — includes a drunk-with-power politician whose presidential campaign in some ways eerily presages the vile Donald Trump’s divisive White House run.
Flagg has also authored other excellent novels (several set in Alabama) — including A Redbird Christmas, Can’t Wait to Get to Heaven, I Still Dream About You, and The All-Girl Filling Station’s Last Reunion. But when the general reader thinks of Flagg, what mostly comes to mind is Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe — which probably is the author’s best novel, and was made into a beloved major motion picture. Still, Flagg’s other books deserve to have much higher profiles.
Of course, Flagg’s fans know and love her novels, and the same can be said for the fans of other multi-book authors associated mostly with one novel.
Those other authors? Let me name just a few, in alphabetical order:
— Margaret Atwood’s most famous book by far is The Handmaid’s Tale, but she has also authored more than a dozen other superb novels — including Cat’s Eye, The Robber Bride, Alias Grace, The Blind Assassin, and Oryx and Crake.
— Willa Cather’s Death Comes for the Archbishop is that author’s book most assigned in high school and college courses, but she also wrote other compelling novels such as O Pioneers!, The Song of the Lark, and My Antonia.
— Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World far outstrips his other books in popularity, but his novels such as Antic Hay, Point Counter Point, and Island are well worth the read, too.
— Herman Melville is of course best known for Moby-Dick, but he penned a number of other fine novels such as Typee, Redburn, White-Jacket, Pierre, and Billy Budd. Plus the riveting short stories “Bartleby, the Scrivener” and “Benito Cereno” are almost long enough to be novellas.
— L.M. Montgomery is mostly associated with the memorable Anne of Green Gables, but she also attracted readers with compelling works such as the various Anne sequels, the Emily trilogy, and The Blue Castle.
Can you name other authors who wrote a number of very good novels yet are mostly known for just one of those books? Why the disproportionate focus on that one novel?
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I’ve finished and am now rewriting/polishing a book called Fascinating Facts About Famous Fiction Writers, but am still selling Comic (and Column) Confessional — my often-funny memoir that recalls 25 years of covering and meeting cartoonists such as Charles Schulz (“Peanuts”) and Bill Watterson (“Calvin and Hobbes”), columnists such as “Dear Abby” and Ann Landers, and other notables such as Coretta Scott King, Walter Cronkite, and various authors. The book also talks about the malpractice death of my first daughter, my remarriage, and life in Montclair, N.J. — where I write the award-winning weekly “Montclairvoyant” humor column for The Montclair Times. You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to buy a discounted, inscribed copy of the book, which contains a preface by “Hints” columnist Heloise and back-cover blurbs by people such as “The Far Side” cartoonist Gary Larson.