cover image American Energies: Essays on Fiction

American Energies: Essays on Fiction

Sven Birkerts / Author William Morrow & Company $25 (413p) ISB

Birkerts's ( The Electric Life ) case against the main trend in contemporary American fiction need only be stated to be persuasively argued against: that the postmodern reality is a blight for writers. Today's novelist contends with a ``depersonalizing force that grows exponentially every time the microchip is further refined''22 and with the complete triumph of television, which has trained a generation of novelists--and readers--in a ``death-dealing aesthetic of flatness.''310 Birkerts has little hope of reversing the main trend; he's content to note and praise writers of the countervailing ones who probe and assimilate experience and deliver a ``skilled stacking of clauses''310 amid a ``bob and weave of syllables.''289 Barth, Updike and Oates are among those he admits to his canon?or some such? , but his loudest praise is for the neglected and unknown: Jack Pulaski ( The St. Veronica Gig Stories )289 and Alfred Alcorn ( The Pull of the Earth )310 , among others. Since most of these essays have been previously published, (the Nation , Ploughshares , etc.), we find the critic recapitulating his central jeremiad in individual reviews again and again--but not really amplifying it. The reading list is enticing, but Birkerts's short takes on fiction unfortunately serve in lieu of full-length, interlocking analysis. (June)