Recently, I've been thinking about Norman Mailer, how famous he once was, and how quickly his work has seemed to fade from relevance... I still read his stuff, but like so many eNotes folks, I'm a book junky. Plus, I have a fascination with the question at hand, to which Mailer relates as an object lesson. He wrote zero masterpieces and, it seems to me, only a masterpiece stands the test of time...But even then, the writer is not guaranteed a perpetual audience. Just look at Saul Bellow. Anyway, getting to the point:
J. M. Coetzee, the Nobel Prize winning author from South Africa, is a writer with a large reputation and a good chance at having his books continue to be read in the years to come. Though Coetzee has won arguably the biggest prize in letters, it seems to me that his greatest works, his skill as a novelist, and his fusion of progressive political outlook with his role as an artist each remain under-appreciated.
I have only been reading Coetzee's work for five years or so, but of all the contemporary writers I have read, I find his work the most haunting and often the most daring. However, as his career has gone on and he has grown more experimental, I tend to like his early works which are short, enigmatic and less overtly political than his later books, though those are good too.
Waiting for the Barbarians is a book that I would recommend to everyone who likes great and serious literature. It's a short novel that is ripe for conversation. This is one of those books, like The Stranger, that takes longer to discuss and figure out than it does to read. I mean that in the best way possible.
I don't want to present my case too strongly here. Coetzee has written many books and I have not read them all. I hold some in great esteem and others, well, not so much. As a figure in the arts, Coetzee presents us with an example of a person who understands his position as being one of social responsibility. In addition to being a master of the craft, this is might be one of the greatest indicators of longevity in the arts.
Other people who come to mind as contenders for the title of "writer who has published something since 1990 and will continue to be read into the future" are Phillip Roth, Thomas Pynchon and David Foster Wallace. Jonathan Franzen is the darling of the literary community right now, so I feel like he should get a mention.