American literary fiction experienced a renaissance after WWII, particularly in a long twenty year arc from about 1958 to 1978. During that period we were introduced to most of the writers who would become famous, and works that would become - and apparently remain - iconic.
I break this period down into three categories of literary writers:
The "New Yorker" boys. This group of writers thrived at the New Yorker Magazine, and defined its own literary stance throughout the 60s and 70s. The three titans of this group are Phillip Roth, John Updike and John Cheever. They represent the "just so" type of short story, usually focused on social intricacies of either the WASP upper classes (Cheever, Updike), or of the newly successful Jewish community (Roth). Updike and Cheever were the consummate chroniclers of the decline of the WASP power structure, while Roth was the fabulist of the Jews' rise to social and financial prominence, with all the contradictions and problems that created.
The second group of writers to define the era were the Southern Writers. Chief among these were Thomas Styron, Walker Percy, Flannery O'Connor, Tennessee Williams and Tom Wolfe. These writers represented a post-Faulkner Southern literature that nevertheless continued to exploit the possibilities of Southern Gothic in the era of civil rights and men on the moon.
The third group consisted of what I would call the Experimental/Encylopedic movement. Writers in this group included Thomas Pynchon, William Gaddis, Joseph McElroy, Don Delillo, with Donald Barthelme and John Hawkes and John Barth capering around on the sidelines. These writers produced playful, yet inscrutable tomes that explored new relations with character, theme and language. They produced very large, densely-packed novels (Barthelme is the exception here), often with picaresque or farcical themes, which reviewers at the time didn't know what to make of. Gaddis' "The Recognitions," and "JR", along with Pynchon's "V" and "Gravity's Rainbow" are good examples of this genre.
All in all, a greatly varied and talented stream of literary output coming from the good ol' USA. How do these camps look now, 30 years past their heydays? Have any of these literary schools survived the era of iPods and the internet?
It's pretty clear that the first two have not. The New Yorker school has declined along with the social world it chronicled. The US is no longer divided between WASPs and Jews, and New York is no longer the only place where America is happening. Also, the world of social codes and conventions that the authors in this group relied upon as grist for their literary mills is a thing of the past. Cheever is long dead, and Updike now only writes reviews. Roth continues to produce interesting work, but its a seam no other authors seem to be mining.
The Southern School has vaporized, as far s I can tell, replaced by stereotyped novels reatailing 400 generations of a kookie, crazy Southern family. Southern writing is now no more than a celebration of synthetic eccentricity, a pre-fabricated screwball melodrama that has no relevance to anything going on in the South, or anywhere else for that matter.
Yet the third school is the one that, to everyone's surprise, not only is surviving, but thriving, bringing forth a whole new generation of practitioners whose success is at least as great, if not greater, than those of its old masters. David Eggers', "A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius," David Foster Wallace's "Infinite Jest", and Vollman's unstopable output of garagtuan volumes speaks very well to the vitality of this tradition. All these writers acknowledge their debt especially to Pynchon. Though now seen as a sort of "nerd lit", it is actually an extension of the Experimental/Encyclopedic literary tradition described above.
What's interesting about this school is that it is not magazine-centric, nor is it New York centric. Neither does it interest itself with the social intricacies among the American elite. Perhaps that is why it has survived, while other literary trends have died a slow death. It turns out, to everyone's surprise, that the Encyclopedic mode is perfectly suited to the world we live in now, where culture is infinitely distributed over the internet, where the list has become a central organizing function of of our lives, and where a preoccupation with technology has become not just the subject of literature, but its method as well.
Adam is a good friend of mine, and a produced screenwriter of the underrated flick "Pleasure Drivers". He and I share a love of noir fiction, but also a hatred of the cliched mannequin it has become in the hands of its clueless modern admirers. Noir these days is drowning in its own atmospherics and tics, and its devotees don't seem to realize that by fetishizing these historical aspects of early noir, they are preventing its evolution and relegating it to the level of a Russ Meyer movie.
Adam has written a great neo-noir novel, Dusk, My Darling, which has none of these flaws. It's a sly, hard-hitting noir tale without any of the musty trappings in which lesser noir writers have suffocated the genre.
He's posting the novel in chunks to his own blog, and I highly recommend you check it out. Here's the link:
You'll discover noir all over again as something vital for now, not just as tired kitsch from yesterday, mooned over by those who could never have produced it in the first place.
What, you may ask, is sheewash? It's the name of a star drive that pops up in the wonderful sci-fi novel, "The Witches of Karres," by James H. Schmitz. Schmitz was a popular writer of scifi short stories in the 60s and 70s, but has since faded into undeserved obscurity. Fortunately, most of his stories have been republished by Baen, and I recommend them to you. Here's a link to a very good James H. Schmitz fan web site:
The Sheewash Drive was a way of going where you couldn't otherwise go, to experience things you couldn't otherwise experience. I hope this blog will serve the same purposes for those who read it.
As for me...I'm a 48 year old software developer living in Los Angeles (actually, Santa Monica). I am a huge film and literature buff (but music, not so much!). I am also a writer on the side. I am trying to complete my first novel (more on that later), and am also writing some scifi short stories.
I'll use this blog to discuss my literary interests and endeavors. I have another typepad blog, called "QA in Hell", where I share my experiences as a QA Director, and offer my often acid commentary on the state of that busines. You'll find a link to that blog in the link panel.