Review: Historical Fiction in the United States since 2000

Historical fiction is sometimes characterized as genre fiction—not serious enough to be considered literature—yet the discussions throughout the day demonstrated that this dismissal is an unjust generalisation. Much of the work discussed at this symposium has been both commercially and critically successful. Panels reflected ongoing debates about cultural memory, race, futurity and the self-reflexivity of postmodern representation in historical fiction. By twisting or revising facts, many of these texts ask readers to consider how history is told, which stories are privileged and how the traumas of the past continue to inform our contemporary moment. Continue reading

Storify of #bookhour chat on GOLD FAME CITRUS by Claire Vaye Watkins

#Bookhour is an open forum twitter discussion between scholars and the public that takes place the last Tuesday of the month unless otherwise stated. Find out more here. On 28th March 2017,  USSO hosted a #bookhour to discuss Claire Vaye Watkins’ Gold Fame Citrus (2015). During the discussion Dr Iain Williams, Pat Massey, Hollie … Continue reading

Review: ‘American Communities: Between the Popular and the Political’

Since the early 1980s, before which, according to Jean-Luc Nancy, ‘the word community was unknown to the discourse of thought’, the concept of ‘community’ has experienced a meteoric rise in politics, cultural discourse and academia. While the OED defines community as a group of people ‘shar[ing] the same interests, pursuits, or occupation’ and ‘distinguished by shared circumstances of nationality, race, religion, sexuality, etc.; esp. such a group living within a larger society from which it is distinct’, this notion of community is too simplistic and in fact ‘colored by romantic nostalgia for homogeneity, closeness, and sameness’. Continue reading

Storify of #bookhour chat on THE MANDIBLES by Lionel Shriver

October 2016 marked our two year anniversary of #bookhour, and to celebrate this ongoing feature former U.S. Studies Online co-editor Michelle Green hosted a discussion of ‘financial crisis dystopia’ The Mandibles by Lionel Shriver with a panel of US and UK researchers. During the discussion Dr Kirk Boyle, Amy Bride, Sarah McCreedy and Michelle Green discussed Shriver’s depiction of material culture, emotions and capitalism, and to what extent the novel is a dystopia or plays with dystopian tropes. Debates arose around how self-conscious Shriver’s novelistic writing is, and if the novel is a Libertarian Candide or postmodern parody. The panellists ended the discussion by returning to The Mandibles as a neonaturalist novel, and left the chat asking, do the Mandibles achieve their capitalist utopia, and is a capitalist utopia achievable? Continue reading

The Last Time I Saw Richard: Post-Postmodernism and the Contemporary Case for Richard Yates

Ninety years since his birth, a familiar argument recurs in discussions of Richard Yates’s critical underappreciation. It holds that a dedication to a stylistically and formally conventional form of fiction, one preoccupied with the mimetically realist representation of a particular set of social mores and their psychological impacts, placed him out-of-step with the experimental currents of the postmodern period. Continue reading

Booker Prize Americanism

Three years ago, our friends chez Booker changed house rules so that novels by North Americans became eligible for the prize. This provoked a backlash from certain contemporary observers, who augured Americans predominating Booker long- and shortlists going forward. Essentially, this hasn’t happened: two Americans making the six-strong shortlists of 2014 and ’15 is vanishing cause for concern. What this article explores is a corollary issue: whether an influx of American authors necessarily means an influx of an ineffable “American-ness”. Continue reading

Storify of our #bookhour on HYSTOPIA by David Means

On Tuesday 2nd August 2016, Dr Dorothy Butchard, Dr Ciarán Dowd, Dr Deirdre Flynn, and Dr Dan King joined #bookhour organiser Dr Diletta De Cristofaro to chat about David Means’ Hystopia, in the longlist for the Man Booker Prize 2016. The discussion focused on the form of the novel, both in its postmodern nested narratives and framing devices, and in its various story arcs; on the relationship between alternate history and trauma, as well as on that between individual agency and state intervention; and, finally, on the text’s use of Baudrillardian tropes and its problematic depiction of women. Continue reading

Storify of our #BOOKHOUR on ZERO K by Don DeLillo

On Tuesday 31st May, Dr Kasia Boddy, Dr Catherine Gander, Dr Doug Haynes, Dr David Hering, and Professor Mark Osteen joined guest #bookhour organiser Rebecca Harding to discuss Don DeLillo’s Zero K. The discussion explored the way themes from DeLillo’s earlier fiction resurface in the novel, and the effect of this reusing of material. The conversation also focused on the presence of various art forms in the text and DeLillo’s continuing interest in visual art in his work. Questions were also raised about the success of the novel’s narrative techniques, and the role of humour, capital, and political elements in the text. Continue reading

Storify of our #Bookhour on ON SUCH A FULL SEA by Chang-rae Lee

On Tuesday 5th April, Dr Andrew Tate, Dr David Bell, Dr Louise Squire and #bookhour organiser Dr Diletta De Cristofaro discussed Chang-rae Lee’s On Such a Full Sea. The chat focussed on the defamiliarisation produced by the first-person-plural narration, on how the novel negotiates between the collective and the individual, on acts of resistance as well as the notions of utopia and hope within the text, on the narrative’s extrapolation from present circumstances and on what this extrapolation may suggest in terms of current ecological issues. Catch up on the chat in the storify here. Continue reading

Book Review: Critical Insights: David Foster Wallace edited by Philip Coleman

In Adam Kelly’s overview of the critical field surrounding David Foster Wallace (1962-2008), he notes that during the last years of Wallace’s life there was ‘a steady stream of scholarly interest, but more recently that stream has become a torrent’ (46). If we consider the vast amount of blogs, reviews, and think pieces, that have emerged to coincide with the recent U.S. release of the film The End of the Tour – which portrays five days with Wallace on the promotional tour for Infinite Jest (1996) – we can discern that that torrent has become a deluge. Indeed, it may be that we are fast approaching – or have already hurtled past – the point that marks ‘peak Wallace’. Continue reading