TEN VERSIONS OF AMERICA by Gerald B. Nelson

TEN VERSIONS OF AMERICA

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Nelson trots out ten exemplary anti-heroes from modern American novels -- Humbert, Miss Lonelyhearts, Yossarian, Dick Diver, Eliot Rosewater, etc. -- as witnesses to the monstrous success of the Puritans' program and the consequent monstrous unlivability of American society. His social history per se is as general and simplistic in its way as the high school history myth it opposes; the only real data is strictly literary, and its emphasis is on the individual whose maladaptation drives him into territory no Founding Father dared tread -- the desolate Self. The last frontier, Nelson suggests, holds uniquely American terrors, but somehow his broad assertions of national pathology don't entirely jibe with the terms of his cases in point: these characters are afflicted with ""the world,"" ""the dark,"" meaninglessness, powerlessness, and love impeded. The psychic genealogy from mad Mather to, say, Neil Klugman, another Puritan, is further blurred by the presence Of Odysseus, Gulliver, Job, Lovewit and the rest of the World Lit. retinue, as if this were not a sustained argument but a batch of classroom lectures unsuitable to a not very novel radical rubric. There is really only one version of America given here, and it floats like Ahab's whale in the bowl of the skull.

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1971
Publisher: Knopf