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10 Best Thomas Wolfe Books (2022)

Best Thomas Wolfe BooksGreatest Talent

In this article, I will try and find the best Thomas Wolfe book. An American writer who although not widely known has had a notable impact on American Literature. Especially with the unique narrative style that he utilizes in his four, partly autobiographical novels. He has been praised by names such as William Faulkner as the greatest talent of their generation and we will learn why as we go through his portfolio.

Gravestone Store

Thomas Wolfe’s childhood can almost be seen as cryptic thanks to the profession of his father, a gravestone carver. His work overall and the angel statue that crowned one of the windows of the store would go on to heavily inspire the author’s work. Besides that, his mother was in the real estate business and took part in boarding houses. The author also had six three sisters and four brothers but one of them unfortunately passed away in childhood.


Best Thomas Wolfe Books

Photo Title Rating Length Buy
You Can't Go...image You Can't Go Home Again 9.28/10 774 Pages Check Price On Amazon
Look Homeward, Angel:...image Look Homeward, Angel 9.14/10 455 Pages Check Price On Amazon
Of Time and...image Of Time and the River 9.44/10 896 Pages Check Price On Amazon
The Web and...image The Web and the Rock 9.18/10 912 Pages Check Price On Amazon
The Complete Short...image The Complete Short Stories 9.36/10 656 Pages Check Price On Amazon

You Can’t Go Home Again

 

Family and Individual

You Can’t Go Home Again stands as the first among the best selling Thomas Wolfe books. It is a fiction-laced autobiographical novel that displays the climate of the United States and Europe during 1920’s and ‘30’s as well as the personal experiences of the author in these times. Beyond these, it is a story that dwells in the ticky subjects of family and personal identity.

Not a Warm Welcome

Our protagonist is George Webber, a writer from North Carolina who has been living in New York for some time before the events of the book. We learn that the book that brought him success was a result of his completely honest handling of his family and hometown. So, when decides to visit North Carolina after the success of this book, he discovers that his family and friends do not take kindly to their secrets being exposed.

Fully Realized Emotions

The author uses the seven-hundred or so page count of the novel for getting to the heart of the subjects he is handling. Every theme in the book feels fully explored. Yet this is not the reason this piece is one of the best Thomas Wolfe books for me, it is the elaborate and highly accurate expressions of emotions. He is willing to get his hands dirty to completely describe a character’s inner world.


Look Homeward, Angel

Bildungsroman

Look Homeward, Angel is the most popular of Thomas Wolfe’s books mainly because it is his first published novel as well as a prequel to one of his later works. It is a bildungsroman -a coming-of-age story- with the protagonist and his life being almost identical to the author. Another interesting fact about the book is that the “Angel” in question is the one that Wolfe’s father used to put up on the window of his gravestone business.

Love and Abuse

It takes place in the Altamont city of Catawba which is a mirrored vision of the author’s hometown Asheville and it mostly concerns itself with the inner workings of the Gant family. We see that although the Gant family loves each other sincerely, they could be included in textbooks as a prime example of a dysfunctional family. Behind the curtains of their home are physical and verbal abuse, contempt, and sibling rivalry.

Poetically Written

I have always liked works such as these. They show the makings of an exceptionally successful person without the technicality of an autobiography and all the usual grace of the writer. This is the part that Thomas Wolfe especially excels at. He tells his story with all the savor of a poem and does so brilliantly. And for some reason, I feel like it could be one of those books that you get a different meaning out of every time you read it.


Of Time and the River

 

Flying From the Nest

Next up on our list, we have one of the best selling Thomas Wolfe books as well as arguably his most prominent work. It is the sequel to Look Homeward, Angel that I previously mentioned. It picks up almost the exact same time the prequel ended and the writing style is fairly similar. The only noticeable difference is that the pace of this book is somewhat faster.

While the prequel was all about the trivial boringness of small city life, this one handles the escape from it and the following phases of finding new meaning for everything in life. Gant has left his hometown and is lost without a compass yet, he needs to keep going all the same. He attends higher education, becomes a teacher for a while, and travels around the US and through Europe. 

Relevant After a Century

While I was reading this piece, what struck me the most was that everything made sense. It was written almost a century ago when nothing was as it is today. Life had different struggles, people had different ideas, and most importantly, the world was a different place. Against all this, the fingers the book raised and the ideas it represented still carry their whole meaning. A truly timeless piece.


The Web and the Rock

 

Spiritual and Artistic Change

The Web and the Rock is yet another one of top rated Thomas Wolfe books I will go over in this article. It is a prequel to the first book I included on the list, You Can’t Go Home Again as well as a transformed sequel to the stories of Eugene Gant from the author’s first two novels. The reason for this seemingly unnecessary change, Wolfe says, is his “genuine spiritual and artistic change”.

Cycle of City Life

The content of the book can be divided into two parts of about equal length. The first part is about the protagonist George Webber’s transformation from the small city boy that he is to a fully confident and capable New York City novelist. All the while trying to figure out what he really wants from life. The second part is about how he slowly gets tired of the life he chose for himself and longing for getting away from everything.

Misrepresentations

This piece is at its heart, about the misconceptions of our world. We have an idea about everything happening in the world. In Wolfe’s time, this was all thanks to books, movies, and news. Yet, the things we are presented with through these mediums never seem to, at least fully, hold up to reality when we actually experience those things ourselves. If you can read the book without missing this point, it is undeniably one of the best novels by Thomas Wolfe.


The Complete Short Stories Of Thomas Wolfe

 

Most Comprehensive Collection

We are continuing our Thomas Wolfe book reviews with a widely-encompassing book, The Complete Short Stories Of Thomas Wolfe. It is not exactly “Complete” as there are several stories of him not included in this book but it is the most comprehensive collection out there. It includes fifty-eight short stories with thirty-five of them only having been published as standalone pieces and one that made its debut with this piece.

Narrative Experiments

This collection is the easiest source that one can use to examine Thomas Wolfe’s writing over the course of his life. It is no matter of debate that the author liked to play around with different narrative techniques and it is interesting to witness which ones he decided to keep on using and which ones he abandoned after some time. Although some of the writings are not as good as the novels, this aspect of the collection deems it priceless.


The Lost Boy

 

Four Memories, One Story

The Lost Boy is a series of short stories that I think can be considered a novel as a whole. It tells the story of a very tragic event, and its continuous echoing throughout his early life, which the author went through as a child; the loss of one of his brothers. The narrative technique through which the plot is revealed makes this novel what it is. We get a chance to look at the events from completely unique perspectives.

There are four stories included in the book, each from a memory of the lost brother Grover from a different family member. First, there is the father’s which is a story of the time Grover defended his father during an argument at the grocery store. Second is the mother’s memory of the horrible words she spoke with the pain of losing her child. Then comes the story of one of his sisters being traumatized by the loss and finally, a memory of Wolfe himself.

It Sure is Something

The Lost Boy is “something”. Some may like it and some may not but no one can deny the book is highly intriguing and unique.  We do not get these kinds of stories very often, stories where a singular event from the life of the writer is told. Even then, this piece sets itself apart with its sheer literary quality. Even if it was a piece of fiction, it would still be a masterpiece thanks to this which in my opinion makes it one of the best Thomas Wolfe novels.


O Lost: A Story of the Buried Life

 

The Notable Editor

This one of the best rated Thomas Wolfe books was not actually an unpublished book. Matter of fact is that it is a republishing of the best Thomas Wolfe novel “Look Homeward, Angel”. How did this come to be? Maxwell Perkins, one of the most established editors of the time as well as the author’s editor for his novels has everything to do with it.

See, Wolfe’s work is lengthy and his narrative is proudly truthful. When the author brought his first novel to be evaluated by Perkins after having been rejected by three editors, Perkins recognized his talent. Yet, Wolfe’s writing was “too much” by the standards of his day and some of the writing had to be cut away because of page restrictions and their topics.

Lost and Found

The parts that were cut away were mainly about the protagonist Eugene Gant’s romantic and sexual meddling with women. Women who happened to be either in a marriage or sex workers. This seems to me a bit hypocritical since Perkins was also the editor of Hemingway at the time but whatever happened, happened.

Thankfully though, researchers of Wolfe’s writing were able to find the original pencil and paper draft of the book. This, along with the printed copies of the other manuscripts allowed the researchers to reconstruct the novel as it was written by the author. Add in a few fixes of grammatical errors along with some comments on controversial chapters and this version of Look Homeward, Angel was published in 2000.


From Death to Morning

 

Dark and Gloomy

From Death to Morning is possibly the most controversial piece in this Thomas Wolfe book list. It is his second published collection of short stories. Most of the stories have an unusually pessimistic attitude compared to the other works of the author. They are mostly concerned with the disastrous effects of war and death.

The stories in this collection read very much like a romanticist trying a little too hard to dramatize the pains and sufferings in life. I felt as though the book was written by a faulty copy of the Thomas Wolfe that I knew. I would not call it bad, but it is different in a bad way. But then again, maybe he had to go there to become the Wolfe that we know and appreciate.

Trying Them Out

On another note; Thomas Wolfe’s use of various narrative techniques in short stories is also seen in this collection. With their use, the author ties the present and the past as well as the characters included in the stories to make up for highly enjoyable reads. They are a bit faulty in execution due to the author’s inexperience at the time but they are there.

A Different Focus

From Death to Morning is a piece that stands out in the author’s portfolio. It is less concerned with the meanings of things and the inner workings of the world. Instead, it seems to carry the influence of the things going on in the world during its preparation. I would not criticize the book as being any less than good but it surely is not the best Thomas Wolfe book.


A Stone, a Leaf, a Door: Poems

 

A Poet at Heart

A Stone, a Leaf, a Door is the first of its kind in this Thomas Wolfe books ranked list with it being a poetry collection. As I said a couple of times earlier, one of the biggest strengths of Wolfe is that he writes with the attitude of a poet. He has even been commented on by poets of his time as a poet who decided to write in prose.

In Case You Missed

In fact, he writes so poetically that the poems included in this book are just “versed up” versions of his prose writings. This one-of-a-kind piece has been criticized on the grounds that if Wolfe wanted to publish poems, he should not have chosen prose. Still, I think this collection is highly enjoyable as you can revel in the beauty of lines that you might have missed while reading the books.


The Hills Beyond

 

Piles and Piles of Manuscripts

Last in order of Thomas Wolfe’s books in this article, we have The Hills Beyond. It is said that when the author passed away, he had more unfinished drafts in store than works published. Three collections have been published with Wolf’s pile of manuscripts as the source material and The Hills Beyond is the third one.

Ancestry of Webber

The most striking and also the titular story “The Hills Beyond” tells the story of some of George Webber’s maternal ancestors. They are residents of North Carolina during the American Civil War and there are quite a lot of them too. I think what the author wanted to do with this piece was to mirror some of Webber’s and his family’s behaviors and explain their root causes.

The Highlights

Some other stories in the book that are worth mentioning are; “Chickamauga” which is a war story that was shared with him by his great-uncle, reimagined by the author from the first perspective, and “The Lost Boy”, an addition to the already published stories with a more fragile but content outlook. There are a few more pieces related to the author’s published work but these are basically the highlights.

Almost Unfamiliar

First of all, there is always room for doubt when the subject matter is post-mortem books. There is no way for us to know how much of the content comes from the original source and how much is added later on or changed. I am saying this because this collection does not feel like it was written by Wolfe, at least completely. Overall, might be enjoyable for the author’s fans but not even a contender for the best Thomas Wolfe book title.


Final Thoughts

 

During the life and work of Thomas Wolfe, the competition for literary fiction was dominated by heavy hitters like Faulkner and Hemingway. While these writers and their admirers focused on telling a story of “living the life”, Wolfe was more concerned with the meaning of life both on a personal level and as a concept. He was maybe the most promising American writer of his time. He just focused on the quality of his work instead of a target audience.

Michael is a graduate of cultural studies and history. He enjoys a good bottle of wine and (surprise, surprise) reading. As a small-town librarian, he is currently relishing the silence and peaceful atmosphere that is prevailing.