BACK TO CHINA by Leslie A. Fiedler


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One of critic Fiedler's pet topics is ""the death of the novel."" Recently he told us- by way of citing Burroughs- that a good way to declare this death is ""to explode it""- another way of saying create an anti-novel. Back to China isn't quite that; novelist Fiedler sticks too closely to the conventions of realism, he stalks within a psychological landscape, even the Freudian kind, and he has a social gestalt of sorts. All baggage any anti-novelist would dump. Yet the themes and characters are quite current, nay fashionable: the middleaged professor-hero, war veteran and past radical, for instance, is so radiated (excuse it) with the guilt of Hiroshima, that he has had himself sterilized, the operation performed by a fine old Jap, a Dr. Hiroshige, no less, later deemed a war criminal. Weaving between the hero's past and present, the novel offers recurring motifs, such as ""fear is stronger than love,"" interlocking symbols, and various outsider-ploys (the hero, a Jew, is surrogate father for a suicidal hipster-type American Indian married to a sharp unillusioned Japanese American with whom the hero- who has his own neurotic wife- shacks up, and so forth). As can be seen, much too much goes on in this short, barking, intensely readable novel; too much and too little. Fiedler's rugged dramatic sense, his spunky dialogue, somehow doesn't quite fill up the pervasive hollowness of his so contemporary tale. It seems really thesis-fiction, an illustration of one of his essays, say ""Race- the Dream and the Nightmare."" Further, though Fiedler employs ambiguously mocking distortions, these sub-rosa trickeries are too weary-wise to get things airborne.

Pub Date: April 21st, 1965
Publisher: Stein & Day