A MIRROR IN THE ROADWAY: Literature and the Real World

Morris Dickstein, Author . Princeton Univ. $26.95 (304p) ISBN 978-0-691-11996-0

Beginning with how American writers like Whitman, Melville, Wharton, Ellison and Bellow variously depicted life in New York City, literary critic Dickstein (Gates of Eden ) examines an array of authors in relation to their historical moments and explores the significance of how they represented their worlds. Dickstein, who openly expresses his reservations about poststructuralist and new historicist approaches to literary criticism, writes in what he calls a "tradition that is intuitive, experiential, historicist and semi-sociological." A section on representations of Chicago compares Theodore Dreiser's "canny social history" of that city in Sister Carrie with Upton Sinclair's more crudely journalistic novel The Jungle. In additional essays Dickstein makes a case for the social awareness of F. Scott Fitzgerald's late, Depression-era writing, and reflects on the notion of alienation and on the enigmatic sensibilities of Kafka and Beckett. The author, a professor of English at the CUNY Graduate Center, is at his most persuasive when tracing the French writer Céline's influence on American black humorists of the '60s such as Philip Roth and when assessing the cultural forces that have shaped the styles of such American Jewish writers as Saul Bellow, Bernard Malamud, Delmore Schwartz, Paul Goodman and I.B. Singer. Agent, Georges Borchardt. (June)

Reviewed on: 03/14/2005
Release date: 04/01/2005
Genre: Nonfiction
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