- Fiction:The 1930s to the 1960s
Book-length studies are especially popular this year, with authors as diverse as John Steinbeck, Richard Wright, Flannery O'Connor, Thomas Wolfe, Erskine Caldwell, Vladimir Nabokov, Paul Bowles, H. P. Lovecraft, Jack Kerouac, Raymond Chandler, and William Burroughs receiving monographs. Shirley Jackson is honored with a substantial biography, Langston Hughes with a volume of letters, Lillian Smith with a reader, J. D. Salinger with a compilation of interviews and other items, and Saul Bellow and Isaac Asimov with literary companions. In addition, Wright, O'Connor, Lovecraft, and Ralph Ellison are treated in essay collections as is the American West. Bellow and James Baldwin also receive special sections in journals. To add to these worthwhile studies, numerous individual essays feature material on a wide variety of topics, including tourism, sexuality, war, ethnicity, hoodoo, racism, film noir, biopolitics, digital initiatives, the body in literature and photography, Afrofuturism, intertextuality, film and opera adaptations, health policy debates, and ecocritical concerns. The global nature of American modernism continues to interest scholars, who focus on such subjects as Mexican modernism and transatlantic studies and reconsider modernism across borders in general. It is clear that modernism remains a lively topic for 21st-century debate. [End Page 249]
A welcome addition to this year's scholarship is The Routledge Introduction to American Modernism (Routledge). In addition to providing an introductory chapter that discusses the origins of modernism and its antecedents, including premodern writers such as Stephen Crane, Kate Chopin, Jack London, and Edith Wharton, Linda Wagner-Martin covers immigrants and the global dimensions of American modernism, the genre of poetry, writers of the 1920s, and the Harlem Renaissance before turning to the writers most germane to this chapter. Individual chapters are devoted to the writers of the 1930s and 1940s, and Thomas Wolfe is included in a chapter with F. Scott Fitzgerald and William Faulkner. Wagner-Martin's insightful companion offers both the modernist neophyte and the established scholar a solid overview of the era.
a. John Steinbeck, Dorothy Parker, and Ann Petry
In Citizen Steinbeck: Giving Voice to the People (Rowman & Littlefield) Robert McParland seeks to reappraise Steinbeck's work, contending that Steinbeck "is a crucially important ethical writer for our time." Approaching his texts through "intertextual, dialogical criticism and new historicism," McParland first offers an account of Steinbeck's life before turning to a discussion of his early fiction, major novels, and works of the 1960s such as the essays in America and Americans, which express concern for the ecological future of the country. Especially important, McParland notes, are novels such as Of Mice and Men and The Grapes of Wrath, which "provoke critical thinking, moral reflection, and the development of empathy." As "a world citizen," McParland asserts, Steinbeck suggests in his writing that we "appreciate relationships—human and ecological." The volume illustrates that Steinbeck is important to today's readers for a number of reasons, most of all because his works "argue for an art of care" for those who are vulnerable and stress a necessary "compassion, tolerance, and respect for diversity."
In "Cathy's 'Masculinity' as Survival in Steinbeck's East of Eden" (Expl 74: 31–33) Kelly-Rae Meyer argues that masculine traits like physical appearance, determination, and superior intellect, which are used to vilify the character of Cathy in that novel, "instead raise her up to be a successful member of patriarchal society." Mary Elene Wood's [End Page 250] "Experience Beyond Bearing: Steinbeck in the War Psychiatry Archive" (AL 88: 331–60) discusses the significance of a 1943 Steinbeck war dispatch originally written for the New York Tribune that was included in the service psychiatry archives of London's Wellcome Library by the late Stephen Mackeith, who had himself been a service psychiatrist. Viewing an archive "as an accidental anthology, a bringing together of diverse documents so that they appear as parts of one multifaceted text," Wood "examine[s] Steinbeck's effort, in its war psychiatry 'anthology' context, in relation to wider historical shifts in British and American military psychiatric diagnosis and treatment" through the world wars, then considers how Steinbeck's war dispatches represent "a crisis of representation...