“Another 20 years of boring literary novels and the thing’s dead.” Jonathan Franzen made this remark to justify providing his reader with “a maximally enthralling experience.”1 The reader’s absorption guarantees the novel’s survival, presumably because obstacles to popular appeal can only further trends of indifference already afoot in the culture at large. As I argued in the previous chapter, Franzen’s anxieties circulate around cultural distinction, prestige, and authority, all of which are threatened by the rise of consumer culture and its attendant ideologies. The three novelists I address in this chapter are no less concerned about the novel’s survival, but have chosen to make issues of reading, readability, and readership central to their fiction. Can the words of the writer still find a receptive mind? How is such a mind constituted out of the structure of memory embodied in literary history? These questions take on a greater urgency if the problem of individual communication comes to be seen as a microcosm of readership, cultural efficacy, and the uncertainty surrounding the project of innovative fiction.
KeywordsBeach Smoke Trench Defend Detritus
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- 2.See in particular Joseph Dewey, Understanding Richard Powers (Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press, 2002); and Review of Contemporary Fiction 18.3 (Fall 1998): 7–109.Google Scholar
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