Precisely when memory is frail and emotion is strong, imagination takes fire."" And imagination, Morris subtly and lyrically argues--the making of images--has been greatly enhanced by American fiction's bold use of the vernacular. ""All writers fell under the spell of the visible world, but only American writers had at their disposal a language seamlessly welded to their material--indeed, seemed to be the material itself, fraying away at the fringe of the immediate present."" Gertrude Stein, Morris piquantly suggests, may have been more vernacular-oriented than Mark Twain: her middle-classness, her repetitions, her mirroring of how most people actually, literally, think. Other opinions are equally bearding. Stephen Crane: ""As a painter, he would have been one of the century's prophets; as a writer, an American writer, this imagery merely seemed bizarre."" Fitzgerald: ""Sentiment distilled to an essence. . . . His air of mourning is less for lost life than life's betrayal of his own fiction."" Faulkner: who ""writes with the damper wide open, sucking in more air than the occasion warrants. . . but without this draft there might have been no fire, only clouds of smoke."" And there's a superior analysis of why Hemingway's style so captivates--and then disappoints--us. Morris' framework of ""image-making"" is not completely pellucid: the general drift seems to be that American writing has gone the real world one better, all without abstraction, by making speech and style stand in for the absence of an already-established culture. But, like Eudora Welty's The Eye of the Story, the book's greatest virtue is its technical knowledge and love and awe at the mystery of fiction. Deep-drilling, canny criticism.