VULNERABLE PEOPLE: A View of American Fiction Since 1945 by Josephine Hendin

VULNERABLE PEOPLE: A View of American Fiction Since 1945

Email this review


What the last thirty years of American fiction mirror, so Hendin holds, is ""a search for shock-resistant lives. . . a model of how life can cohere."" Eighty years ago, Henry James was saying substantially the same thing, but Hendin has jazzed up the thesis by homing in on twin modes of the art: what she calls ""holistic"" novels--wide-angled, obsessively managed ones--and books that are ""anarchic""; ""mindlessness as virtue."" Save for an introduction that fatuously flashes sociological theories like a rapid-fire film montage, Hendin's opinions are intriguing: feminist, acerbic, thought-provoking. On Vonnegut: ""the voice of the many who are one with their limitations."" On John Barth: ""no one has written more glitteringly of the worthlessness of the heart, or the great munificence of language in bestowing so much grandeur, so much richness, so many pearly epigrams on all us swine."" Burroughs, Selby, Barthelme, Capote--they write ""S-M fiction."" Hendin is kinder to Updike, who sees ""a man's wife as his fate,"" and Bellow, whose characters ""save themselves from nervousness by force of their depression."" And she thinks Pynchon is the new Rilke. But the brunt of her approving interest rests on women writers: Flannery O'Connor, Cynthia Buchanan, Lois Gould, Judith Rossner, Joyce Oates. She's pleased to see women writing about the ""heroine, trapped and fighting. . . the image of our will to overpower vulnerability,"" but her discrimination falters somewhat here in favor of her zealis Looking For Mister Goodbar comparable to Play It As It Lays on anything but a sociological level? Still, Hendin writes sharply and with sufficient intelligence to make her point of view truly pointed.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1978
Publisher: Oxford Univ. Press