The New American Novel
SOMETHING decidedly peculiar has been a happening to the American novel over the past fifteen years. The various labels attached to the new American fiction-black humor, satiric fantasy, anti-realism, self-reflexive writing, fabulation, mythopoeia, absurdism-have by now be- come the cliches of the weekly newsmagazines, and there is enough congruence among the competing terms at least to reassure us that they point to a common object. Although some attempts have been made to link the writers of the 60′s and 70′s with the pioneers of European and American modernism of the earlier 20th century, it has been frequently, and justly, observed that the new American novelists break sharply not only with the tradition of realism rooted in the 19th-century novel but also with the modernist ideal of the novel as a perfectly wrought, intricately consistent work of art. That is, in this vehemently contemporary fiction, there is a cultivated quality of rapid improvisation, often a deliberate looseness of form; a love of pastiche, parody, slapdash invention; a willful neglect of psychological depth and subtlety or consecutiveness of characterization; a cavalier attitude toward consistency of incident, plot unity, details of milieu; and, underlying all these, a kind of despairing skepticism, often tinged either with exhilaration or hysteria, about the validity of language and the very enterprise of fiction.
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