Ben Fountain’s favorite underrated books range from a comedic take on dogs and drug dealers to a darker look at American politics. See what the fiction writer’s picks for criminally underrated books are below:
Mr. Peanut by Adam Ross: (Pictured) “Part domestic drama, part murder mystery, this novel goes as deeply into the swamps of marriage as any book I’ve ever read. Stephen King called it ‘the most riveting look at the dark side of marriage since Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?’ True dat.”
Dogfight, A Love Story by Matt Burgess: “The hilarious, harrowing story of an extremely bad weekend in the life of 19-year-old Alfredo Batista, a very small- time drug dealer with some very big problems, including the Mob, a seven- months-pregnant girlfriend, and an ex-con older brother who just might want to bash Alfredo’s head in. Oh, and there’s the small matter of the pit bull Alfredo needs to steal, for the Homecoming dogfight. Poor dog. Poor Alfredo. I couldn’t stop laughing.”
The Violin Face by Rufi Cole: “Heartbreaking, unflinching, and insanely beautiful, this novel follows a clutch of teenagers — barely post-pubescent, actually — in a world where the adults who make the rules are ineffective at best, psycho tweakers at worst. Who is this Rufi Cole who writes like a dream? I have no idea. Her brief bio says she can shoot you in the chest with a blow gun at thirty paces in the dark. But why would she bother? Her book already did the job, at least with this reader.”
We Agreed to Meet Just Here by Scott Blackwood: “Barely 160 pages long, this short novel set in Austin, Texas packs the substance of novels two or three times its length. In the course of exploring the death of the Deep Eddy community’s beautiful lifeguard, Blackwood delivers a rich and nuanced meditation on love, loss, death, and grace. Pretty much a perfect book.”
The Gay Place by Billy Brammer: “First published in 1961, this three-part novel revolves around Texas Governor Arthur ‘Goddamn’ Fenstemaker, politico extraordinaire who happens to be a dead ringer for Lyndon Baines Johnson, Brammer’s boss for four years. Willie Morris called it ‘the best novel about American politics in our time,’ and David Halberstam put it on par with All the King’s Men. I think it’s better.”
Taking What I Like by Linda Bamber: “One of the most delightful books I’ve come across in years, this short story collection takes as its inspiration various Shakespeare plays, Jane Eyre, and the artist Thomas Eakins. Bamber’s imaginative riffs on these literary and artistic precedents are nothing short of genius, in addition to being a helluva lot of fun.”
For more criminally underrated entertainment, pick up this week’s issue of Entertainment Weekly, on stands now.