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"Our Business is Going in the Hole": Russell Banks and the Self-Destruction of New England Fiction

From: College Literature
Volume 39, Number 3, Summer 2012
pp. 106-128 | 10.1353/lit.2012.0031



This article places recent New England fiction into a broader literary-historical context. Specifically, it historicizes a destructive impulse notable in New England fiction as far back as Ethan Frome. The article examines the evolution of this impulse, which began as a reaction against regional fiction's overemphasis of the idyllic qualities of rural New England and became a manifestation of the anxieties animating white-male authorship in the latetwentieth-century. The article examines two Russell Banks novels that dramatize the destructive impulse, Hamilton Stark and Affliction. Banks's representations of white, working-class masculinity reveal a synthesis between the history of New England fiction and the recent, male-dominated, return to the principles of regional fiction. Self-destructive men, as Banks represents them, are an endangered species. They are diabolical, late-twentieth-century versions of Sarah Orne Jewett's white heron and their endangered status is an unlikely asset in an identity-politics-influenced literary marketplace.

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