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© Canadian Review of American Studies/Revue canadienne d’études américaines 33, no. 2, 2003 American Studies in Review Unmanageable Realities in Postmodern America Osteen, Mark. American Magic and Dread: Don DeLillo’s Dialogue with Culture . Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania P, 2000. Pp. 299. Melley, Timothy. Empire of Conspiracy: The Culture of Paranoia in Postwar America. Ithaca, NY: Cornell UP, 2000. Pp. ix + 239. O’Donnell, Patrick. Latent Destinies: Cultural Paranoia and Contemporary U.S. Narrative. Durham, NC: Duke UP, 2000. Pp. xi + 193. In a 1990 interview, Don DeLillo links Americans’ diminished faith in personal and national agency to those several seconds in Dallas in the fall of 1963 when a nation’s destiny was shaped by, notionally, arguably, inscrutable forces: As the years have flowed away from that point, I think we’ve all come to feel that what’s been missing over the last twenty-five years is a sense of a manageable reality. Much of that feeling can be traced back to that one moment in Dallas. We seem more aware of elements like randomness and ambiguity and chaos since then. (DeCurtis 286) Of course, against the backdrop of America’s decisive participation in the Second World War, a “good war” won by the virtuous, a great many things have subsequently seemed out of joint, affronting Americans’ confidence and pride, pointing up in retrospect that unalloyed victories and seemingly unambiguous assertions of invincibility are exceptional. And beyond the assassination of JFK (and others) in the sixties, there is a myriad of other events – the loss of the Vietnam War, various political scandals , the oil crisis of the seventies, epic and serial corporate malfeasance, and terrorism at home and abroad – that have chastened the United States for its naïve optimism and, indeed, its naïve self-absorption, leaving Americans confronting a series of unmanageable realities. Canadian Review of American Studies 33 (2003) 162 No contemporary novelist has engaged the themes and preoccupations of Americans in the post-war period quite so comprehensively, and with as much persistence, as Don DeLillo. And it is more than fitting that he is now receiving, if a little belatedly, the scholarly attention and public esteem that have for much of the last twenty or so years been enjoyed by more formally and stylistically unique writers such as Kurt Vonnegut and Thomas Pynchon, and by people like Toni Morrison and John Edgar Wideman with their concentration on specific social groups and more narrowly delineated issues. In recent years, a quite substantial body of scholarly publications has emerged, including various essay collections and three monographs : David Cowart’s Don DeLillo: The Physics of Language (2002) and, under review here, Mark Osteen’s American Magic and Dread: Don DeLillo’s Dialogue with Culture, both of the latter providing more fulsome examinations of DeLillo’s fiction than afforded by the earlier volume on DeLillo (1993) in the Twayne Series by Douglas Keesey . Don DeLillo remains best known for his breakthrough novel, White Noise (1985) which won the American Book Award. Still, it really comes in mid-career for DeLillo, who had been very productive leading up to the book’s appearance. He had authored six novels: Americana (1971), End Zone (1972), Great Jones Street (1973), Ratner’s Star (1976), Running Dog (1978), and The Names (1982). True to the author’s commitment to represent what he calls “American forces and energies,” these novels, as well as Libra (1988), Mao II (1991), and the magisterial Underworld (1997), depict various highly topical and distinctly American subjects and themes: consumerism; the media and image construction; football; nuclear war; modern technology; capitalism; drugs, sex, ‘n rock and roll; environmental pollution; American pop culture; violence; the Cold War; and, recurrently, terrorism (Begley 304). (DeLillo’s most recent fiction, The Body Artist [2001], his first novella, is, consistent with the genre, more limited in scope and, at the same time, less overtly social in focus.)1 American Magic and Dread provides highly detailed and conscientious readings of the DeLillo corpus. Of particular merit are the chapters devoted to, respectively, Americana, an exceptional first novel and one that serves to a large extent as a primer of sorts for many of...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1710-114X
Print ISSN
0007-7720
Pages
pp. 161-171
Launched on MUSE
2019-01-02
Open Access
No
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