The modern novel, like the theatre, has become a fabulous invalid. Critics never tire of announcing its imminent demise, or of injecting it with theoretical plasma. Alan Friedman, with refreshing good sense, takes the genre's viability for granted, and through a synoptic reading of the works of Hardy, Conrad, Forster, and Lawrence, offers an interesting approach to contemporary fiction in general, one based on a new way ""of seeing ourselves in the world and through time."" He calls this method an ""open form,"" in which the flux of life, the stream of conscience and of events, works in an ever expanding process, eschewing any manifest resolution in a narrative or moral sense, and embraces, as far as possible, the ambiguities and paradoxes of the self, its relations to others and to society. Friedman's analysis of the ""open form"" has obvious parallels with recent European phenomenological and existential criticism, and it is unfortunate that he has not broadened his discussion with reference to the increasingly influential studies of Poulet or Blanchot. Nevertheless, though restricting things to English literature and American academics, his book is an arresting, careful, impressive achievement, especially sharp in the essays devoted to Hardy and Lawrence, including a highly original and valid stress on the feminine or erotic consciousness shared, in differing ways, by both. The Conrad chapter is a bit solemn, the Forster a bit sketchy, and sometimes Friedman's summarizings go astray, along with his rather pedantic lingo. Still, a real contribution.