American Energies: Essays on Literature

American Energies: Essays on Literature

by Sven P. Birkerts

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
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)
Library Journal
Award-winning critic Birkerts here lends his voice to the ongoing cultural conversation about the present state and direction of American fiction. While writers like John Aldridge (in Talents and Technicians , LJ 3/15/92) and Tom Wolfe (in his notorious Harper's essay) have blamed shopping-mall minimalism for its impoverishment, Birkerts argues that contemporary writing is more vital than generally believed. He traces his thesis through three sections: ``Backgrounds'' examines the influence of nostalgia, word processing, and electronic media on writing and reading in America; ``American Fictions,'' which contains the book's finest essays (``The Talent in the Room'' and ``Paranoids and Intellectuals''), explores recent literary successes and failures; and ``American Writers'' reviews the works of those Birkerts sees as instrumental to the future of American fiction. Although uneven in quality, these essays make a compelling argument for the vitality of our national fiction. Recommended.-- Henry L. Carrigan Jr., Westerville P.L., Ohio

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HarperCollins Publishers
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1st ed

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