Writing the Past in Twenty-First-Century American Fiction

Alexandra Lawrie

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Argues for a reawakened commitment to historicity in contemporary American fiction
  • Includes brand new and intensive readings of contemporary novels by the foremost American writers of the twenty-first century
  • Combines detailed contextual discussion with close readings of the novels
  • Places historical events in dialogue with twenty-first-century contexts

Writing the Past in Twenty-First-Century American Fiction examines contemporary novels profoundly shaped by a sense of historical consciousness. Authors including Ben Lerner, Colson Whitehead, Dana Spiotta, Hari Kunzru and Garth Greenwell each use flashbacks, historical parallels and non-sequential narrative arrangements to emphasise the re-emergence, in a twenty-first-century context, of historical structures and circumstances. This study explores how these frequent moments of temporal slippage amount to a ‘falling out of time’, as characters are forced to confront the past crises which continue to exert pressure on their own contemporary moment.

Acknowledgements Introduction

  1. Historical racism and contemporary incarceration in C. E. Morgan and Hari Kunzru
  2. Ben Lerner and literary antecedents of the city
  3. Dana Spiotta and political commitment
  4. AIDS activism and looking back in Tim Murphy and Garth Greenwell
  5. Anxious futures in Colson Whitehead and Omar El Akkad

Conclusion Bibliography

'Always historicize!’ Fredric Jameson taught us, and Alexandra Lawrie does so compellingly in her account of a turn-of-the-millennium generation of US novelists who have themselves taken Jameson’s lesson to heart. Sampling half a dozen or so representative writers, some of them  familiar, others less so, Lawrie illuminates the contemporary art of fiction by adeptly interweaving attentive close reading with contextualizing historical information.

Brian McHale, The Ohio State University, Author of Postmodernist Fiction and The Cambridge Introduction to Postmodernism
Alexandra Lawrie is a Senior Lecturer in English Literature at the University of Edinburgh.

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