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BEN HARKER Recording Stories: Realism and the Reception of Robert Stone's Outerbridge Reach OBERT stone's literary reputation, launched when his ?debut novel A Hall ofMirrors (1967) won the Faulkner Award, has been steadily consolidated over the last thirty years with a further five novels, two screenplays, one collection ofshort stories and a substantial body of journalism.1 But Stone's profile in terms of winning awards and media exposure has not been matched by academic scrutiny.2 Robert Solatoroff, author of the only book length monograph on Stone, comments that there are "surprisingly few articles," adding, "most of the best criticism . . . has appeared in reviews" (235); in one such article Emory Elliott offers an explanation for this oversight: "novels are frequently divided into two categories; neorealism and self-reflexive fiction . . . . Most critical books on contemporary fiction of the last five to ten years have been most concerned with theoretical problems which are best illustrated in self-reflexive novels which thereby become the texts celebrated and studied" ( ?a8).3 So for Elliott, the fact that Stone's texts are "traditional in narrative and in [theirj representation of the relationship between text and historical context" (rather than "self-reflexive ") has played a significant role in repelling sustained critical engagement (198).4 Elliott's remarks allude to fundamental shifts in perceptions of literary realism which have occurred over the last thirty years or so and which are best understood in relation to specific institutional and intellectual developments: the post 1960s expansion of the Anglo-American Arizona Quarterly Volume 58, Number 4, Winter 2002 Copyright © 2002 by Arizona Board of Regents ISSN 0004-1610 Ben Harker academy; the proliferation of theoretical perspectives in general, particulate those which contest language's capacity to "reflect reality"; and the commensurate emergence of "self-reflexive" modes of postmodernist narrative.5 Although the degree to which these shifts might account for the critical neglect of Stone remains, ultimately, a matter for speculation , it is striking that the reception of his writing itself beats the imprint of the overarching critical opposition between realism and selfreflexive writing which Elliott identifies. American literary realism has, from its earliest moments, contained instances of subtle self-reflexivity. William Dean Howells's The Rise of Silas Lapham (1885), for example, invokes, subverts and defines its own discourse against current forms of romance—and yet contemporary discussion of realist fiction often assumes that a text's status as realist precludes the possibility of it reflecting upon, and encouraging the reader to consider, its own procedures and assumptions.6 By way of illustration, this article begins by examining how Stone's fifth novel Outerbridge Reach (1992) has been discussed by critics. Outerbridge Reach adopts what John Sutherland, in his review of the novel, calls Stone's "recurrent" device of the "dual hero scheme" where the story is told from two characters' perspectives, "one who acts and one who watches" (28). In this case the "doer" is Owen Browne, a Vietnam veteran turned middle-class suburbanite who embarks on a solo round-the-world yacht race in order to restore a sense ofhonor and purpose to his humdrum routine. The "watcher" is Ronald Strickland, a documentary filmmaker commissioned to record Browne's progress. The novel is divided into sixty-eight chapters: twenty-seven take Browne's point of view, twenty-three take Strickland's, and the remainder are dominated by Browne's wife Anne, who has an affair with Strickland whilst her husband is at sea. In spite of this relatively even-handed distribution of narrative sections between the two main characters, reviewers and critics have consistently privileged the "doing" over the "watching" in their accounts of the novel. William H. Pritchard's review, "Sailing Over the Edge," deals with Strickland in one brief paragraph; Robert Phillips's devotes less than two sentences to him; and Solotoraff's monograph gives Strick- Robert Stone's Outerbridge Reach109 land proportionately short shrift, spending thirty-four pages on Stone's "fifth and best novel" but only six pages on the filmmaker. Whilst these critics gloss over the Strickland narrative, others, British and American alike, actually dispute its relevance to the book. John Leonard implies that Strickland is included primarily...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1558-9595
Print ISSN
0004-1610
Pages
pp. 107-130
Launched on MUSE
2014-04-02
Open Access
No
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