This is oldish, but I just read it, so here’s the question before the board: “Why Gore Vidal, Norman Mailer, and Truman Capote All Failed to Write the Great American Novel”
My immediate answer was “Because Vidal, Mailer, and/or Capote didn’t really like America all that much.” Turns out author Bruce Bawer agrees with me:
…for all their differences and their mutual hostility, Mailer, Capote, and Vidal had something in common that separated them from most of the rest of us. Even as all of them adored the limelight, they were drawn to the dark side. If they weren’t, in the final analysis, great, or even particularly good, American novelists, perhaps it was, in large part, not because of a lack of raw talent but because they all felt, to some degree and for various reasons, alienated from ordinary Americans to a degree that made it impossible for any of them to write with sufficient empathy and understanding about their countrymen – except, perhaps, those who had killed in cold blood. To be capable of a perverse sympathy for psychopaths but incapable of contemplating ordinary American life without feeling contempt and condescension (and this last applies less to Capote than to the other two) is not the formula for producing enduring literature.
This has been a problem for American literature for some time: personally, I blame Sinclair Lewis, but then that’s because he’s handy*. We’ve been letting our mainstream writing class get lectured to by a bunch of post-modern, post-national, and post-Christian self-indulgent drones for a century now, and it shows. Which would bother me more if genre fiction has largely avoided that trap; and which would bother me less if the print publishing industry wasn’t still dominated by people who can’t figure out why their latest iteration of twenty variations of Let me spend four hundred pages doing nothing while constantly talking about how I feel about doing nothing isn’t bringing in the green**.
But that’s another essay.
*And because his one foray into the field of science fiction failed so badly.
**Before you wonder why I care: well, Baen isn’t publishing EVERY SF/Fantasy/Horror author that I read; so I still have to sometimes deal with idiots who don’t understand that overpricing e-books means that that I won’t scour their catalogs for new authors like I do Baen’s.