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Contemporary US Fiction


  • Credit value: 30 credits at Level 7
  • Tutor: Professor Joseph Brooker (subject to change)
  • Assessment: a 5000-word essay (100%)

Module description

On this module we will consider the fortunes of fiction in the US since the early 1990s. A persistent theme will be the role or relevance of fiction: the question of what cultural importance and interpretive capacity it has retained in relation to American society, during a period when the US seemed to reach the peak of its global power. The novel form has been the main focus for such discussions, but we will also consider short stories - a form to which American writers have repeatedly turned - as well as non-fictional reportage that might nonetheless be touched by the process of fictionalisation.

Questions likely to recur through the module include:

  • Does the novel have a role to play in contemporary America? Can it act as political prophecy or commentary?
  • How has US fiction been marked by the recent concern with trauma and mourning?
  • Has the short story form allowed US writers to achieve different goals from the novel?
  • How have US writers used genre, like the Western or the detective story?
  • With what terms can we describe the stylistic differences between writers in this period?
  • Are traditional notions of character, narrative, even the moral vocation of fiction, outmoded or still vital in addressing US fiction this century?
  • Have recent US writers encountered the limits of irony? Can irony coexist with earnestness?
  • Have writers been successful in bringing us news of the contemporary? Can a novel contain ‘too much information’?

With some of the most recent fictional texts listed below, academic criticism so far is minimal; our own work on the texts will be among the first such critical engagement. But reviews and author profiles in the media can give some background, and texts can be considered in the light of broader issues discussed in existing academic works (narrative, trauma, genre, the short story …).