Yes, but go further there are richly rewarding literary tales from Africa and South America too

Q: I love dramatic novels about upper-middle-class Americans, by writers such as Jonathan Franzen and Donna Tartt. Can you suggest any other authors to try?
Anonymous, 37, Alberta, Canada

Alex Preston, author and Observer critic, writes:

Well now, I have to say that my first instinct here is somewhat mutinous. Havent upper-middle-class Americans rather had their time in the literary sun? Theres a whole world out there, you know.

So what about something from the trailblazing Cassava Republic Press, a publisher of extraordinary, mind-expanding books from Africa? Id recommend in particular A Small Silence, the superb debut novel from the Nigerian poet Jumoke Verissimo.

Or how about Alia Trabucco Zerns The Remainder, published by And Other Stories and translated by Sophie Hughes? This deeply compelling excavation of the crimes of Pinochets Chile has gained new urgency now tyranny has once again reared its head in the country.

But if you insist on Americans in the Franzen/Tartt mould, how about looking back a generation to the greats such as James Salter, William Maxwell and (the slightly younger) Marilynne Robinson?

Or what about the remarkable Olive and Lucy Barton novels by Elizabeth Strout? I didnt entirely see what the fuss was about until her most recent, Olive, Again, which left me speechless with admiration.

To my mind, though, the best contemporary American novelist of middle-class mores by some distance is one who happens to live in England: Benjamin Markovits . You Dont Have to Live Like This is one of the essential books of the past 10 years breathtakingly clever, hugely entertaining and a powerful commentary on the financial crisis and its aftermath. His recent Essinger novels A Weekend in New York and Christmas in Austin are also glorious, showing us that America will always be best perceived through the prism of the family, and that, as Hemingway knew, sometimes you have to leave a place to understand it.

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