Over at the National Post, Alex Good and Steven Beattie give their list of overrated and underrated Canadian writers. Among those who are have been too widely praised: Anne Michaels, Douglas Coupland, Michael Ondaatje, and Yann Martel. Those deserving of more attention include Clark Blaise, Caroline Adderson, Russell Smith, Douglas Glover and Lynn Coady.
These are very strong lists. I happen to agree with almost all the judgments, at least with the writers I’m familiar with. I’m especially happy to see the shout-out to Clark Blaise, who is one of my favorite living writers. In an ideal world, Blaise would be as feted and popular as Alice Munro.
Having said that, I’m not sure that Russell Smith and Douglas Glover are, as advertised, underrated, although both are excellent writers. It is true that Smith is a very controversial writer and often gets panned (unfairly so, in my opinion), but the same could be said of Martin Amis and Philip Roth. The fact is, Smith gets a lot of attention for his fiction, which is all a writer can ask for these days. The same is true of Glover, who is rare in his generation: a Canadian writer who has actually been honoured by a substantial collection of critical essays.
I think the accolade “underrated” should more properly be given to writers who have composed excellent stories and novels but whose names are unknown even to most readers of quality literature. I’m thinking here of K.D. Miller, Mike Barnes, Mary Borsky, Cynthia Flood, Ann Copeland, and Terry Griggs. They’ve all written first rate fiction, yet their names barely register in literary discussions. Any list of underrated Canadian writers should include them. If I were doing the list, I would have taken out writers like Smith and Glover, who are superb but get widely reviewed and discussed, to make room for K.D. Miller and company.
But perhaps the literary situation is so bleak that any good writer is now, almost by definition, underrated and under-read?