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Hicks, Tribes, and Dirty Realists

Hicks, Tribes, and Dirty Realists: American Fiction after Postmodernism

Robert Rebein
Copyright Date: 2001
Edition: 1
Pages: 216
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  • Book Info
    Hicks, Tribes, and Dirty Realists
    Book Description:

    Robert Rebein argues that much literary fiction of the 1980s and 90s represents a triumphant, if tortured, return to questions about place and the individual that inspired the works of Hawthorne, Melville, Twain, Faulkner, and other giants of American literature. Concentrating on the realist bent and regional orientation in contemporary fiction, he discusses in detail the various names by which this fiction has been described, including literary postmodernism, minimalism, Hick Chic, Dirty Realism, ecofeminism, and more. Rebein's clearly written, nuanced interpretations of works by Raymond Carver, Cormac McCarthy, Don DeLillo, Louise Erdrich, Dorothy Allison, Barbara Kingsolver, E. Annie Proulx, Chris Offut, and others, will appeal to a wide range of readers.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-4997-4
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-vii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. viii-viii)
  4. 1 After Postmodernism
    (pp. 1-21)

    Studies of twentieth-century American fiction published before 1985—and even some published after that date—share a certain beautiful symmetry, a sort of pristine academic logic that is as pleasing to the eye as it is compelling to the intellect. In the early decades of the century, so the story goes, fiction writing in America came roaring out of the backwaters of nineteenth-century naturalism and into a revolutionary period of modernism and experimentation that was symbolized, in painting, by the New York Armory show of 1919. In the years immediately following WorldWar I, American modernism flowered in the works of...

  5. 2 Minimalism and Its Discontents
    (pp. 22-40)

    Although it would be difficult to pinpoint the exact moment when the first cracks began to appear in the edifice of literary postmodernism, a good guess might be December 1966, when a gaunt, low-rent tale called “Will You Please Be Quiet, Please?” was chosen for theBest American Short Storiesanthology of 1967. It would be a full fourteen years, many hardships and much rejection, before Raymond Carver and his particular brand of realist short story came to dominate the American literary scene, but the signs of this coming, we can see now, were already in the air.

    Contrary to...

  6. 3 Dirty Realism
    (pp. 41-65)

    Minimalism goes by another name in England, where it has been widely discussed as a result of two issues of the literary journalGrantaconceived and put together in the mid-1980s by the expatriate American editor Bill Buford, who a decade later would become the literary editor ofNew Yorkermagazine:Granta 8:Dirty Realism(1983) andGranta 19:More Dirt(1986).

    In his introduction toGranta 8, which included stories by Raymond Carver, Richard Ford, Jayne Anne Phillips, and others, Buford described the new American writing as “a curious, dirty realism about the belly-side of contemporary life.”¹ Dirty realism...

  7. 4 Hick Chic, or, the “White Trash Aesthetic”
    (pp. 66-81)

    Bill Buford’s introduction of dirty realism to Britain led to two important studies of the new fiction written by British authors. The first of these, Duncan Webster’sLooka Yonder!: The Imaginary America of Populist Culture(1988), looked at the new fiction (as well as American movies, plays, and popular music) in relation to populist ideas both past and present. Webster’s analysis is important because it locates the new fiction not only in relation to a revival of the American short story but also to a “return to regional voices,” a movement in subject matter “away from the cities and campuses...

  8. 5 Return of the Native
    (pp. 82-108)

    In the great “Custom-House” section ofThe Scarlet Letter, Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote movingly of what he called the “strange, indolent, unjoyous attachment” of dust for dust, the irresistible pull, from the author’s point of view, of the native place.¹ Hawthorne marveled that, although he had often “dwelt away from” his ancestral home of Salem, Massachusetts, and indeed was “invariably happiest elsewhere,” there remained in him a feeling of “affection” for “Old Salem,” a desire not only to return there but also to make it the subject of his fiction (40). For one under the pull of the native place, Hawthorne...

  9. 6 New West, or, the Borderlands
    (pp. 109-133)

    Aside from being narratives of return, books like Kingsolver’sAnimal Dreamsand McGuane’sNobodys Angelare also westerns or, in the parlance of the region they depict, “new westerns,” novels of the “New West.” As such, they are part of one of the most exciting developments in contemporary American fiction—one that in many ways epitomizes the general direction American literature itself has taken in the wake of postmodernism.

    The current renaissance in western writing dates back at least to 1978, when Elliot Anderson, editor of the literary magazineTriQuarterly, asked William Kittredge and Steven Krauzer to select writers for...

  10. 7 Tribes and Breeds, Coyotes and Curanderas
    (pp. 134-153)

    In his introduction to a special issue of the literary magazinePloughsharesdevoted to the theme of “Tribes,” James Welch tells the story of how, twenty-five years earlier at the University of Montana, an Irish poet who had come there to teach for a year expressed wonder that someone like Welch, who is of Native American ancestry and identifies himself as an Indian, could have come to “have a name like Welch,” so obviously “an Irish name.” Welch explained to the poet that while both of his grandmothers were Indians (one Blackfeet, the other Gros Ventre), both of his grandfathers...

  11. 8 The White Prison Novel as Bildungsroman
    (pp. 154-164)

    Joe Speaker is a young, white, drug-addicted, dope-dealing, strip-show barker about to be sent off to the Big House for the first time. Whisper Moran is “head chingaso” of the San Quentin Aryan Brotherhood, a man so carved up with jailhouse tattoos that the only kind thing awaiting him in this world is the Big Eraser. Says Whisper to Joe, as the two of them await prison in a San Francisco felony tank, “Just remember, homeboy. Do your own time, hold your own mud. It’s simple, just aint always easy.”¹

    This advice, which comes toward the middle of Seth Morgan’s...

  12. Conclusion
    (pp. 165-179)

    In the preceding pages I’ve tried to point out and describe some of the principal strengths of a continuing tradition in American fiction that began, as Hemingway once observed, with Mark Twain’sAdventures of Huckleberry Finn—the first major American novel to combine realism with local color and sophisticated social commentary. American fiction at the end of the millennium embraces past traditions and forms even as it remains resolutelytopical, both in the sense of belonging to a particular location or place, and in the sense of being of current interest, contemporary. This topicality, largely absent from the work of...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 180-195)
  14. Index
    (pp. 196-207)