The author of A Scream Goes Through the House (2003) again examines what art reveals about our psyches, this time focusing on the novels of four modernist writers and one late-20th-century successor.
“These groundbreaking narratives seek to uncover the actual shape and texture of a life . . . its inside testimony of consciousness,” states Weinstein (Comparative Literature/Brown Univ.) in the preface to his dense, closely argued work of literary criticism. In Marcel Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past, people and even things are seldom what they seem; Proust’s seven-part epic is a “false-bottomed suitcase” that constantly undercuts the narrator’s (and readers’) perceptions to show how subjective our notions of the world are. James Joyce’s Ulysses plays every kind of game with the conventional novel to vividly recreate the complexities of the mind and the insistent demands of the body. In Mrs. Dalloway and To the Lighthouse, Virginia Woolf enters into her characters’ thoughts to remind us that “the self lives in and through others”; identity is a social relationship for her. William Faulkner’s doomed white Southerners in The Sound and the Fury and Absalom, Absalom sometimes can’t even distinguish between their inner torment and the brutal physical reality around them. While these writers plumb their characters’ interiors, Toni Morrison blisteringly shows black people so maimed by the horrors of slavery that they fear to explore their memories at all: “the untold, unknown, unshareable personal story . . . has become, in Beloved, lethal.” No brief résumé can do justice to Weinstein’s passionate examination of these seminal works, whose difficulty he acknowledges while persuasively contending that the authors had to break with 19th-century traditions in order to capture the ferment and instability of “life as we live it [without] an omniscient narrator.”
Weinstein’s lengthy exegeses and analyses are not for the casual reader, but those who share his taste for challenging fiction will be moved by his love for books that “both shock and educate us about the scope and intensity of human feeling.”