Lost American Fiction

They Don’t Dance Much by James Ross was published in 1940 and  by arrangement with Houghton Mifflin Company was reprinted in 1975.  This novel was a delightful surprise.

About his novel, James Ross said “When I began writing this book late in 1939, I had no outline and no real plot in mind except maybe unconsciously some variation on the one Chaucer used in the ‘The Pardoner’s Tale.’  There was nothing aside from a fairly clear idea of the main characters, Jack, Smut, and the Fishers and Astor Legrand.  I had known them all, at least in a casual way.  One of them was murdered but, so far as I know, none of them was ever convicted of anything more than a misdemeanor.”

In the afterward, George V. Higgins wrote that “James Ross was a writer out of his season.  That was too bad for him, and until this novel was retrieved from the neglect of almost thirty-five years, too bad for us, too.  He wrote with a fine disregard for what was popular, courageously, and his editors printed what he wrote, with equal courage, and nobody noticed.  That is what must have been hardest to bear: nobody noticed.  He advanced the craft of fiction as far as it could be advanced when he was writing, and no one was paying attention.  Very few, at least.  Life’s hard, life’s very hard.  It’s harder without luck.

But that, of course, was what he was telling us.”

From the novel:

I had beer number three, and by then the situation looked better to me.  I quit trying to find any news in the paper and started looking at the special notices and the want ads in the back.  There was half a page listing the names of the folks that were going to have their land sold for back taxes.  I looked down in the M’s and there I was: “McDonald, Jackson T., 45 acres, West Lee Township.’

I hadn’t paid the taxes in two years and I might have known it was coming.  Just the same it wore me out to see my land advertised for taxes.  My prospects for a crop that year were lousy.  I had a land-bank payment to meet that fall.  My mule had the gout, or something like it.  I saw I was going to have to trade him or quit trying to farm at all.  Now this had to come up.  It knocked all the comfort out of the three bottles of beer and I was cold sober.  I felt like pitching a big drunk.

They Don’t Dance Much is listed as one of several Lost American Fiction novels by The Neglected Books Page.  I am glad I found this ‘lost’ novel.

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1 Comment

  1. Excellent post! I am writing from Open Road Media with the news that MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Media will be re-publishing They Don’t Dance Much in both print and electronic formats in April 2013, with a new introduction.

    If you’re interested in re-reading and reviewing the novel closer to the publication date, I would be happy to share a digital copy.

    We are thrilled to give They Don’t Dance Much another chance at reaching the audience it deserves. Please email me for more information.

    – Emma, Open Road Integrated Media


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