I'd go with Fat City by Leonard Gardner because it deals with the state's gritty heartland, where poverty is endemic and toil is the only means of survival. The protagonist, Billy Tully, is a boxer fallen upon hard times in Stockton. He lives in flop-houses and must work as an agricultural laborer to survive. This is an utterly realistic portrait of life in the richest agricultural region in the history of the world (that is also one of three pillars on which the state's economy rests). No movie stars, no beaches, no "doing lunch at Giorgio's" in this book, but more than enough grit.Gerald W. Haslam has published eight collections of short stories, including That Constant Coyote and Condor Dreams. His 2005 publications include Haslam's Valley and Workin' Man Blues: Country Music in California, 2nd edition. His publications include Straight White Male, Jack London's Golden State: Selected Stories, and Manuel and the Madman. A recipient of the Western Literature Association's Distinguished Achievement Award, Haslam is Professor Emeritus of English at Sonoma State University.
Other writers have praised Fat City, too.
The writer Denis Johnson calls Fat City "a book so precisely written and giving such value to its words that I felt I could almost read it with my fingers, like Braille." Read Johnson's brief but powerful appreciation of the novel here.
The book reveals a vision of a whole stratum of American life which up to now has been more often sentimentalized, exploited, patronized and feared by even those writers who come from it and know it best. . . . The pathetic and yet not ignoble hopes of the boxers, the dead weight of pointless labor, the fragile wisps of feeling fluttering mothlike around people too timid to love and too lonely not to try.
[Gardner] has got it exactly right--the hanging around gas stations, the field dust, the relentless oppressiveness of the weather, the bleak liaisons sealed on levees and Greyhound buses. . . .Fat City affected me more than any new fiction I've read in a long while.
Thanks to Gerry Haslam for his recommendation.
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