Take a literary tour of the United States with this 5 part series of 50 States, 50 Novels

50 States, 50 Novels- Part 5

The United States is known for the breadth of diversity in its literature – take a literary tour round the states with these fifty novels. See Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4 to explore all 50 states. This post is dedicated to novels set in South Dakota through Wyoming.

South Dakota – The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder (1940)

Laura Ingalls Wilder’s much-celebrated Little House series started out entirely in the realm of children’s literature, but as the series progressed it gradually became darker and its focus began to drift more towards adult literature. The Long Winter is right on the cusp of this transition, and documents the family’s struggle through the winter of 1880-81 in De Smet, South Dakota.

Tennessee – Child of God by Cormac McCarthy (1973)

Cormac McCarthy is well-known for the level of historical research that goes into his novels, such as Blood Meridian. This disturbing novel, set in the mountains of Tennessee, contains a plethora of historical detail, and the infamous protagonist is reportedly based on an unnamed historical figure.

Texas – Caballero: A Historical Novel by Jovita González & Eve Raleigh (1996)

Published in 1996, some 50 years after it was written, Caballero is a quintessential Texan novel. Set in the 1840’s, it explores Mexican/American relations, and since its “rediscovery” it is now considered to be one of the cornerstones of Mexican-American literature.

Utah – Riders of the Purple Sage by Zane Grey (1912)

Unquestionably the most successful and influential Western novel of all-time, Zane Grey’s masterpiece is set in the remote deserts of Utah, and tells the story of Jane, a young woman trying to escape her fundamentalist Mormon church, and Lassiter, as classic Western anti-hero.

Vermont – The Secret History by Donna Tartt (1992)

Although she is now best-known for her 2014 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Goldfinch, Tartt’s first novel is just as rewarding. Set in a prestigious Vermont college, the novel is a fascinating inversion of the murder mystery genre, with the killer being revealed in the very first pages.

Virginia – Lie Down in Darkness by William Styron (1951)

Published when he was just 26 years old, William Styron’s first novel immediately launched him to literary fame, receiving extremely enthusiastic reviews. Following the dysfunctional Loftis family, this Virginia-set novel borrowed numerous elements from Styron’s childhood hometown in Newport News, Virginia.

Washington – The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie (2007)

Sherman Alexie’s first foray into young adult fiction recently received the distinct honor of being named the most frequently challenged book of 2014. However, the controversy, like so many censorship crusades, has only served to further raise the profile of this National Book Award-winner, which is written from the perspective of a 14 year old Native American as he documents his high school struggles.

West Virginia – Shiloh by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor (1991)

One of the most successful children’s novels of the past three decades, this story documents the friendship between a young boy and a dog, in the charmingly named town of Friendly, West Virginia.

Wisconsin – Rascal by Sterling North (1963)

Sterling North’s autobiographical children’s novel documents the difficulty of his family life and his unlikely friendship with a raccoon in Edgerton, Wisconsin. North’s childhood home, the setting for the novel, is still preserved to this day as a museum open to the public.

Wyoming – The Virginian by Owen Wister (1902)

Despite its title, this novel is set entirely in Wyoming, opening with the arrival of the titular Virginian. It is widely considered to be the first complete novel written in the Western genre, and was also the source material for one of legendary director Cecil B. DeMille’s very first films.

See Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4 to explore all 50 states and continue your literary tour of the United States.

-Christian Kriticos

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