That's all highly judgemental of me because actually, of those four, I've only read one book by one of them (Herzog by Saul Bellow) so suggestions welcome because I have promised myself an exploration of it all one day, but perhaps it is also a demonstration of how tricky it can be to side-step the big shouty voices in search of the gentle whispers.
Everything has changed with the arrival of William Maxwell.
My introduction with They Came Like Swallows, a book which for me joins the honoured ranks of those which pitch a child's inner voice with note-perfect accurately, followed by So Long, See You Tomorrow and most recently Time Will Darken It.
Now I'm adding in some background reading, so alongside the very engaging Paris Review interview I also have Barbara Burkhardt's biography, William Maxwell - A Literary Life.
Whilst I have undoubtedly slipped into rocky crevasses in the past, with too much reading emphasis on the life and insufficient on the writing (Virginia Woolf) it is still proving a revelation to discover more about William Maxwell as I read along. He is a writer with immense and untold sensitivity and knowing where in his life those sensitivities may have come from feels quite essential for me now.
I was therefore interested to read of a serious suicide attempt in his sophomore year at university, a failed attempt obviously, but one which Shirley Hazzard referred to as she memorialized William Maxwell in 2001.
'Maxwell knew that quiet desperation can't be counted on to stay quiet, that heartbreak can grow irrepressible,"....An attempt at suicide "that extreme and most solitary experience must always be set, by survivors against subsequent distress. I sometimes thought it a spectral presence in Bill's equilibrium and in his greatest pleasures. Photographs of Bill and Emmy when their daughters were small have the radiance of a reprieve, as though Bill marvelled, like George Herbert, It cannot be / That I am he / On whom Thy tempests fall at night.' "
Reading that has given me a new perspective having just turned the final page of Time Will Darken It because I sense that 'spectral presence' radiating in William Maxwell's writing here too. I'll give nothing away but if you've read the book you will know the moment and if you haven't there is no way you will miss it.
This is small town America, and the home of lawyer Austin King, his wife Martha and their young daughter Abbey is open for a month-long visit from the Potters, relatives from the Deep South.
It's July 1912 and Elm Street, Draperville is about to host an invasion, and I always think of the sinking of the Titanic when I see anything set in 1912. It seems like an apposite and intentional choice of year in which to set a book where collisions with unseen hazards are rife, many of them hidden out of sight... that 9/10's worth below the waterline.
Yes, a month-long visit, think about visitors and stinking fish after three days and know something of the newly-pregnant Martha's dismay at her husband's unstinting offer of hospitality.
The fragility of the King's marriage is delicately exposed in the opening paragraph
'The house was full of strangers from Mississippi; within an hour the friends and neighbours he had invited to an evening party would be ringing the doorbell; and his wife (whom he loved) was not speaking to him.'
By nuance and gesture, body language and small asides, the parlous state of affairs between Austin and Martha quickly becomes clear, whilst little Abbey brings a child's simple and straightforward perspective to the proceedings.
It is the unmarried adult children of Family Potter, arrogant and self-assured Randolph and breathy and impressionable Nora who cause the most disruption, with Potters Senior ranking a close second.
And poor Austin, or was it poor Austin?
Did I want to shake some sense into Austin...I'm not sure but Austin perhaps the definitive mystery to be fathomed throughout the book for me as I read.
Intrinsically good and kind-hearted or just plain foolish...
Passive and seemingly weak-willed or too well-mannered and tightly buttoned to stray beyond the bounds of politeness and social custom.
Thus far you can perhaps tell that William Maxwell is the master of characterisation and seemingly ordinary situations, there is no sitting back and feeling like the shy reader here, I knew these people and I wanted to know much more each time I picked up a book which I intentionally eked out over four weeks of slow, languid, involved reading.
But just wait until you meet Nora.
Nora, deeply frustrated by the constraints of the life of the unmarried daughter and the increasingly aged parents and the stifled, unreachable opportunities which suddenly seem within her grasp as her obsessive infatuation for Austin starts to blossom insidiously.
Meanwhile Martha, already less than enamoured with her own life and marriage, stands by and watches helplessly and may I say with remarkable control and restraint as Austin, flattered or foolish (reader's decision I think) seems to find the attentive preening of his feathers quite to his liking.
Enough of the detail I hope for you to see what a joyous month-long reading time I've been having with this one and why other books, read alongside out of necessity for deadlines, have fallen some way short.
But if I'm considering again those sensitivities that William Maxwell may bring to his writing from his own experience then this book is full of them.
There was that defining moment when I did know Austin's pain, that he did possess that self-awareness that I had been doubting and when I turned round all my thinking, I knew that William Maxwell knew that pain too.
Time Will Darken It has been one of those remarkable, unmissable reading experiences for me.