THE AMERICAN NOVEL AND THE WAY WE LIVE NOW by John W. Aldridge

THE AMERICAN NOVEL AND THE WAY WE LIVE NOW

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KIRKUS REVIEW

In this short, tetchy, sometimes misleading book, the author of The Devil in the Fire and After the Lost Generation rails at modern-day life and at most of today's serious novelists--who have joined the madness instead of ""examining with the clear eye of sanity whatever are the shams and delusions of the prevailing culture."" Aldridge, coming on like Christopher Lasch's nasty, shallow kid-brother, unleashes now-familiar attacks on modern America: its narcissism, its total preoccupation with ""scientized sex,"" its dependence on vapid TV, its ""rampant mediocrity."" (""Blacks, Chicanos, Navajo Indians, paraplegics, defrocked lesbian nuns from ldaho, and other homosexuals from anywhere must all be accommodated regardless of their qualifications."") And how do our novelists react to this ""moral anarchy of the void?"" By indulging in monologue, paranoia, ""literary onanism"" (Philip Roth), avoidances of reality (Barth), knee-jerk Wasteland imagery (Barthelme, Sukenick, Coover), or mere reflections of the wretched status quo (Heller, Kosinski). Only Gaddis' JR manages ""to reflect chaos in a fiction that is not itself artistically chaotic because it is imbued with the conserving and correcting power of his imagination."" And those writers who have attempted to deal with the world in an affirmative, realistic way--sketchy treatment of Bellow, Mailer, James Baldwin, and Alison Lurie--have severe limitations. Unfortunately, Aldridge reaches some of his intemperate conclusions by ignoring work that doesn't fit in: there's not a word about Roth's The Ghost Writer (which annihilates the view of Roth here); Gilbert Sorrentino is identified only as ""one of Barth's more obvious imitators"" and the author of only Mulligan Stew--a gross distortion. There's an irrelevant, obvious attack on Sophie's Choice. The range of subjects is narrow, skewed. (Aldridge refers readers to his previous books for views of Updike, et al.) And, throughout, the often-solid (rarely original) perceptions of modern fiction's limitations are undermined by overstatement, disingenuousness, and vitriol.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1983
Publisher: Oxford Univ. Press