Vance Bourjaily, one of our favorite novelists, has died at the age of 87. Although we own two copies of his superb novel, Now Playing at Canterbury, we’re not giving either of these out-of-print editions away because you never know when you’ll need an extra. This intelligent, funny, Chaucerian novel revolves around the rehearsals and production of a new opera at a large midwestern university. The characters include the English professor/author of the libretto, several graduate students, a Japanese conductor, a director from Philadelphia, local professional singers, and various outsiders who add some zest. Set in State City, a double for Iowa City, where Bourjaily taught at the Iowa Writers Workshop from 1957-1980, this stunning novel was very popular among the residents and students in IC in 1976.
“Look, as we walk back to the car: In those crop fields, beside this pasture, the corn is ankle-high and finger-fat, the fist-sized soybean plants are kelly green against black dirt. We had better wish them well. There’s a tithe growing out there to keep big State University moving on its earnest, complicated mission–for a cup of soybeans, your kid can triangulate a star, for an ear of corn, memorize two lines of Lermontov.”
Bourjaily is one of the great underrated American writers and I hope there will be a revival of his books. Maybe a Modern Library edition? I also loved The Man Who Knew Kennedy.
You can read his obituary in The New York Times.