- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 22, 2014

NEW YORK (AP) - In a story July 22 about the death of author Thomas Berger, The Associated Press erroneously reported that the main character in his novel “Little Big Man” fought with the Cherokees at the Battle of Little Big Horn. He fought with the Cheyenne.

A corrected version of the story is below:

Thomas Berger, ‘Little Big Man’ author, dead at 89

Novelist Thomas Berger, who reimagined American West in ‘Little Big Man,’ dies in NY at 89

By HILLEL ITALIE

AP National Writer

NEW YORK (AP) - Thomas Berger, the witty and eclectic novelist who reimagined the American West in the historical yarn “Little Big Man” and mastered genres ranging from detective stories to domestic farce, has died at age 89.

Berger’s literary agent, Cristina Concepcion, said Monday that he died in Nyack Hospital on July 13, just days before his 90th birthday. He had been in failing health, Concepcion said.

One of the last major authors to have served in World War II, Berger wrote more than 20 books, including the autobiographical “Rinehart” series, a “Little Big Man” sequel and “The Feud,” about warring families in a 1930s Midwest community. “The Feud” was recommended for the 1984 Pulitzer Prize by the fiction jury but was overruled by the board of directors, which awarded another Depression-era novel, William Kennedy’s “Ironweed.”

Berger’s biggest mainstream success was “Little Big Man,” published in 1964 and an ultra-wry tale of 111-year-old Jack Crabb, who alleges that he was abducted by Indians as a young boy and later fought with the Cheyenne in the Battle of Little Big Horn. The novel was adapted into a 1970 movie of the same name, starring Dustin Hoffman and directed by Arthur Penn. A leading American Indian writer, Sherman Alexie, would cite “Little Big Man” as an influence on his screenplay for the 1998 movie “Smoke Signals.”

Other Berger novels made into films include “Neighbors,” which starred John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd, and “Meeting Evil,” featuring Samuel L. Jackson and Luke Wilson.

Never as famous as such contemporaries and fellow veterans as Norman Mailer and Kurt Vonnegut, Berger became the kind of writer who made fans feel special just for knowing about him. Admirers regarded him as unique and underappreciated, a comic moralist equally attuned to the American past and present.

“Berger’s books are accessible and funny and immerse you in the permanent strangeness of his language and attitude, perhaps best encapsulated by Berger’s own self-definition as a ‘voyeur of copulating words,’” Jonathan Lethem wrote in a 2012 essay. “He offers a book for every predilection: if you like westerns, there’s his classic, ‘Little Big Man’; so, too, has he written fables of suburban life (‘Neighbors’), crime stories (‘Meeting Evil’), fantasies, small-town ‘back-fence’ stories of Middle American life, and philosophical allegories (‘Killing Time’).”

Berger was born in Cincinnati, the son of a public school business manager and a housewife. He was a dreamer, seeking out new worlds on the nearest bookshelf. His favorite works included the legends of King Arthur and, since he was born close enough to the 19th century to hear firsthand accounts, histories of the Battle of Little Big Horn.

“Very early in life,” he once said, “I discovered that for me reality was too often either dull or obnoxious, and while I did play all the popular games that employ a ball, lower hooks into the water, and, especially fire guns, I preferred the pleasure of the imagination to those of experience, and I read incessantly.”

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