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American Dream, American Nightmare: Fiction since 1960.

Kathryn Hume. American Dream, American Nightmare: Fiction since 1960. Univ. of Illinois Press, 2000. 359 pp. $39.95.

The purpose of Kathryn Hume's volume is to juxtapose a series of postwar American novels in order to examine how they engage in what she calls "conversations" over a number of national issues. Following a method similar to that of Frederick R. Karl's American Fictions 1940-1980, she groups her selected texts under theme headings like "immigration" or "mythical innocence." To take two examples from her eight main chapters, under "immigration" she discusses Russell Banks's Continental Drift to establish that immigration is a global phenomenon, next includes Maxine Hong Kingston and Amy Tan to examine the gender dimension, and finally turns to Octavia Butler's Xenogenesis trilogy. This chapter is typical of the whole study in containing lively and shrewd insights into an impressive range of material. Butler, however, was an awkward choice for immigration since her trilogy explores the nature of otherness. Hume places N. Scott Momaday and John Updike under "Seeking Spiritual Reality" in order to establish those writers' criticism of the failure of the American Dream. She argues interestingly that Updike's Rabbit is a personification of white lower-middle-class America, whereas William Kennedy has devised for himself the role of "chronicler of Albany." It is a pity that she did not say more on those novelists who construct microcosms of the U. S. or depict nationally representative figures. In fact, the major reference point throughout this study is the American Dream, with the result that Hume's survey shows how much energy the tradition of the jeremiad still possesses in the U. S. Her avoidance of generic, ethnic and other categories was done to highlight the "visibility of common concerns" in her chosen writers. Inevitably, formal and historical issues tend to get flattened out into questions of theme. Nevertheless, this survey demonstrates how American writers continue to interrogate national values and makes a valuable contribution toward mapping out the variety of postwar fiction.
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Title Annotation:Review
Author:Seed, David
Publication:The Review of Contemporary Fiction
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 22, 2001
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