No novel has taken the task of defining a generation more literally than Generation X, Douglas Coupland’s first-person narrative of post-Reagan, post-college drift, with its long lexicon of neologisms for the 1990s: Cryptotechnophobia, Conspicuous Minimalism, Lessness, McJob, Mid-Twenties Breakdown.
A novel is not designed to be read in one sitting. A reader finds herself in different moods, and different chairs, over the course of a novel; its pages become saturated with meals and conversations and days good and bad. A short story is read all at once, and alone. It might get knitted into life
There aren’t five other living American authors as meticulous and shrewd as Dana Spiotta, as willing (to say nothing of able) to shape true esotericism into such consistently accessible forms. Her novels—four of them to date, arriving roughly every half decade—are taut and scintillant,
Along with its consumers, American popular culture in the 1950s became both besotted with the abundant possibilities set loose by the Second World War and discomfited by the looming prospect that this bounty, along with all of humanity, could at any moment become devastated by nuclear oblivion. The
It’s always pleasing when a strange and distinctive novelist comes outfitted with a name that she might have invented for one of her strange and distinctive characters, and still more pleasing when the actual facts of her personal history seem to have sprung directly from the cortical folds of her
In A Legacy, first published in 1956, Sybille Bedford writes about a Germany in the years before the First World War that had almost disappeared even as it seemed to be in full bloom. This world of privilege and entitlement and eccentricity is presented as normal and natural and at a stage of rich
When crack cocaine enters a story, we usually brace ourselves for a downfall. The tales of those who have fallen prey to the drug are so familiar that they have taught even nonusers to consider themselves experts. Many speak knowingly of the crack addict—gaunt, unkempt, willing to do anything for
In the 1950s, artists worried about the concentration of power in hierarchies. They worried about the political effects of appeals to the authentic. Now we understand all too well that power functions pretty well in networks, too. You can have a very sophisticated theory of the self, and that won't stop power from going about its business. Power has not merely untoothed the language of the avant-garde, it has learned to speak it.
Kazuo Ishiguro's novels have for the last two decades frustrated expectations, and his decision to venture into the realm of legend this time is of a piece with the risks he's been taking all along. As he's explained many times to interviewers, the variation is a matter of maintaining his artistic vitality.
Several years ago (five, to be exact—my youngest had just taken her first steps) I became obsessed with questions of mothers and literature. I wanted a full accounting: mothers who wrote literature (and the logistics), literature about mothers and motherhood—not just books with mothers but books