Just got the news from Chad at Mallard of Discontent that novelist Vance Bourjaily is dead at 87.
Bourjaily was considered one of the best of the postwar novelists and then just faded from popularity– I don’t know why, as I considered his best as good as any and better than most. He was unapologetically interested in bird hunting but was also an academic and teacher; perhaps his interests and characters were from too broad a range of classes, professions, and non- coastal places to appeal to mega- publishing conglomerates. He continued to teach, but the publishers stopped buying.
Chad quoted the Post obit and added some pungent observations of his own:
“Now that’s a scene I would have loved to see: Vance Bourjaily with Kurt Vonnegut (one of my all-time favorite authors but a man who despised firearms) smoking his ever-present Pall Malls while sitting in a duck blind or roaming the Iowa fields in search of pheasants. I’d love to hear those conversations…
“It’s not surprising that Bourjaily – whose son Phil is the shotguns editors at Field & Stream and a damn good writer himself – is best known for his novels. He was a fairly major literary figure back in the day when that meant something more than a bunch of semi-clever assholes tweeting their way to pop-schlock book deals.
“But he was also a wonderful writer on hunting – bird hunting, mostly – and I think it’s a shame the obit didn’t mention his book on the subject, The Unnatural Enemy: Essays On Hunting. It was first published in 1963 (I think) and re-published in 1984 with a new forward by Edward Abbey. Yep, that Edward Abbey”.
I will repeat what I said in the comments as a sort of very minimal primer:
“The greatest uncelebrated novelist left. For sports people: the Unnatural Enemy absolutely. Plus the opening scene of Brill Among the Ruins where the protagonist shoots a duck with a 28 gauge Model 21 and nearly drowns.
“And for everyone the bawdy innovative sprawl of Now Playing at Canterbury, about staging an opera in Iowa, with many voices and a horror story about cats and a Purdey hidden in an insurance scam…
“Then all the others. All on Amazon cheap, still. I’m lifting a drink to him tonight.
“I believe Philip wrote recently about him in the early 60’s, flying with a Beretta in a case under his seat, wearing a tie, showing the “stewardess” his gun, not getting arrested…”
My condolences to Philip, who blogs with Dave Petzal at Gun Nut Blog.
Update: Matt reminds me that the introductory chapter has a funny falconry scene, and that the same chapter (I think) features shooting barn pigeons with a Darne shotgun–!