Many years ago I was given a book by a coworker of mine who told me that this particular American author was absolutely great, and that this novel was amazing. The author was Toni Morrison; the novel was BELOVED. I read it, as did my wife, and we both agreed it was one of the best books we had ever read. I had not read a more involving, intriguing, beautifully written novel in a very long time. It was a clear delight. Toni Morrison won the Pulitzer Prize for this, and should have easily won all the others but didn't for some strange reason. It's not an easy novel to read, she shuttles back and forth in time, sometimes in the middle of a sentence. But once you check into her style it becomes an absolute delight. You have to read her closely, staying with her. it's well worth the effort.
The New York Times Review had said at the time that BELOVED was the best novel written in the past 25 years. Easily. Oprah(God, her again!) financed a movie version of this book(she starred in it too, of course)which failed miserably. I (my wife also) actually liked the movie, but you can't really make a movie from this book because of the intricate, superb writing which makes it so great.
I've read a couple more of her novels: SONG OF SOLOMAN, JAZZ, which I also enjoyed. But none come near BELOVED. She has a new book out this year A MERCY that I'll probably pick up. Sometimes coworkers can be helpful.
Joyce Carol Oats: She is an amazing writer, extremely prolific with essays, short stories, novellas, novels...you name it, to her credit. She also writes Mystery stories under the pen-name Rosamond Smith. My wife reads anything she can find written by her, and I read a lot of her too. My all time favourite is BLACK WATER. The book tells the story(without giving names) of Chappaquiddick, Ted Kennedy, and 28 year old Mary Jo Kopechne who drowned in the accident. The short novel is told in proslepsis style going back and forth from the party to the bridge---very effective.
Other great novels by this excellent author are: FOXFIRE, ZOMBIE, WE WERE THE MULVANEYS, MIDDLE AGE-A ROMANCE, THE TATTOOED GIRL, THE FALLS, THE GRAVEDIGGER'S DAUGHTER. There are too many to list---most of them are packed away in boxes here. Anyway, you can't go wrong reading any Oates' novels.
For Southern US dark drama(excellent stuff) read Flannery O'Connor. She's amazing. You have to read WISE BLOOD. If you want a really scary ghost story better than King could ever write read THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE by Shirley Jackson. She also wrote THE LOTTERY. Sylvia Plath THE BELL JAR, Alice walker THE COLOR PURPLE... There's lots of truly great female writers in America today.
Next: British writers(some)