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3 6 0 W e s t e r n A m e r ic a n l it e r a t u r e F a l l 2 0 0 5 tion. Western literature is, for Lewis, “the first and best example of postmodern writing in American literary history” (192). Unsettling begins with 1820s travel nanatives that claim to faithfully represent western life. It is in this analysis that Lewis announces his departure from standard constructions of the West as frontier (he argues, for example, that frontier authors such as Cooper aren’t writing the West) and embarks on a canon-fracturing investigation of what integrates western literature as a body of (possibly) related texts. One consequence of denaturing canoniza­ tion is that a rather eclectic collection of authors and texts may be marshaled as argumentative support and ground for analysis, and in this Lewis does not disappoint. His analyses range from Mary Austin’s engagement with environ­ mental constructivism to the possibilities of Gerald Vizenor’s postindianness for western authors more generally. Lewis also examines authors who are not often considered in their western context, as in his analysis of Mark Twain’s construction of a farcical authentic persona, Edgar Allen Poe’s western pastiche Journal ofJulius Rodman, and Frank Norris’s negotiations of canonical author­ ship against the western tradition of authenticity. The book concludes with a discussion of Vladimir Nabokov’s, Peter Handke’s, Jorge Luis Borges’s, and Jean Baudrillard’s writings about the West, arguing that their postmodern analyses of western America often recapitulate the strategies of earlier western authors. When western literature is decoupled from its concern with authenticity, the western canon is exploded and we can begin to think of western literary history as a negotiation of authenticity. Lewis thus critiques readings of more recent postmodern western literature as “facile,” “naive,” and “uninteresting” precisely because they ignore two centuries of western postmodemity (195). Unsettling’s disdain of popular western literary forms is somewhat disap­ pointing because of what the intersections between these texts and the canoni­ cal negotiations of Lewis’s authors might indicate about the larger context for western authenticity. This is, though, a separate project from the book’s investi­ gation of canonicity and authorial self-invention, and in Lewis’s analysis of the cultural demands and strategies of western authors he succeeds brilliantly. The Romance of Authenticity: The Cultural Politics of Regional and Ethnic Literatures. By Jeff Karem. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2004- 247 pages, $55.00/$ 18.50. Reviewed by David A. Allred Snow College, Ephraim, Utah Dealing with the diverse writings of William Faulkner, Richard Wright, Ernest Gaines, Rolando Hinojosa, and Leslie Marmon Silko, The Romance of Authenticity builds its argument on close readings of texts and relevant contex­ tual information, including reception histories and authors’ statements. The result is a well-crafted exploration of literature deemed to “authentically” rep­ B o o k R e v ie w s 36 1 resent an American region or cultural group. Arguing that a work of literature’s “historical, cultural, and textual subtleties ... are lost when authenticity limits one’s horizon of investigation,” Jeff Karem is not suggesting that some texts are more authentic than others but rather that “paradigms of authenticity in publishing and criticism are failed ideas in themselves, conceptually unstable and dangerously reductive” (205-6, 15). Karem’s book is insightful and persuasive. His interrogation of authenticity as an interpretive concept reveals much about how this common essentializing approach influences the received meanings of literary texts. For example, his chapter on Leslie Marmon Silko details her early resistance to the role of cultural spokesperson and traces how Silko has recently found greater promi­ nence by accepting the status of representative voice. Although much of the book deals with the South, its treatment is transportable to western American literature in that it contributes to an understanding of both the formation of the region as a literary phenomenon and the political balancing act of writing as a regionalist. Still, while being a useful work of scholarship, Karem’s book may leave readers expecting more discussion about several issues, including the role that race plays in...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1948-7142
Print ISSN
0043-3462
Pages
pp. 360-361
Launched on MUSE
2017-10-04
Open Access
No
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