Talking Points Memo has chosen Joseph O’Neill‘s Netherland as the first novel featured in its book club. Great idea: I finished the book a couple of weeks back, and I was deeply impressed with how steadily the book balances a clear-eyed picture of New York’s crudeness and chaos alongside such elegant writing. Mobsters and cricket; seedy hotels and top-tier brokers—O’Neill’s city is full of contrasts, but he never presents it as an easy tale-of-two-cities squabble. O’Neill pulls that off partly by refusing to invent cookie-cutter portraits of immigrants and ethnic enclaves—you’ll run into a lot of novels these days (especially New York-set novels), that revel in using such people as comic relief or as cheap reiterations of the Magical Black Man. O’Neill’s characters, by contrast, are ambitious, emotional, self-contradictory, given to statements of ethnic pride, but never strictly for the sake of character detailing.
At any rate, the matter of American-ness in an increasingly global world is very much on O’Neill’s mind in his opening post, in which he questions what globalization might spell for the American novel:
[T]hese days you don’t have to station yourself in America, or even take a particular interest in the American consumer, in order to prosper on an ‘American’ scale. As a result, the traditional preoccupation of American novelists–in essence, to do some kind of justice to the American dream narrative, with all of its assumptions and concerns–threatens to become as anachronistic as Chuck’s plan to Americanize cricket. To what extent, then, is the American narrative viewpoint, globally dominant since World War II, now losing its preeminence?
Given the lively (if often gassy) responses in the comments, it’s a subject folks want to engage in. Joining in on the discussion for the remainder of the week will be Dale Peck, Kurt Andersen, Mia Carter, and Will Buckley. Should be fun. (via)