The Great Dubya-Era Novel

In hunting for a novel that best exemplified life during the Bush years, Newsweek‘s Jennie Yabroff makes a not-bad choice with Jonathan Franzen‘s The Corrections; though the Franzen vs. Oprah = Obama vs. Bush argument is a bit of a stretch, the book is indeed a “warm social novel on an epic scale.” But I’m not wholly buying the assertion that, “Eventually someone will write a post-9/11 novel that successfully incorporates the attacks with the anxieties that were already simmering in our collective psyche in the summer of 2001.” I figured that’s what Ken KalfusA Disorder Peculiar to the Country accomplished, and he made it funny to boot.

Besides, I’m not convinced that the great post-9/11 novel needs to confront the matter head-on. A few other suggestions I would’ve tossed out, had I been in the story meeting:

Daniel Alarcon, Lost City Radio—As an allegory for the disconnect Americans felt from their government, Alarcon’s South American tragic fable captured the current mood of fear and anxiety.

Ward Just, Forgetfulness—An intimate profile of how terrorism hits close to home, and the frustrations in policing it.

Philip Roth, Exit Ghost—On top of precisely describing the feeling of profound disappointment in the wake of the ’04 election, it also neatly evoked the feeling of wanting to get the hell out of Dodge for a while.

Susan Choi, A Person of Interest—Without addressing post-9/11 terrorism directly, Choi’s dense novel gets at the identity crises that stem from terrorist provocations.

Paul Auster, Man in the Darkfor reasons already discussed

Others? I didn’t go hunting for post-9/11 novels, and I’m sure I missed plenty.

5 thoughts on “The Great Dubya-Era Novel

  1. Actually, the whole NBA shortlist from the year Powers won for THE ECHO MAKER would probably qualify. Kalfus; Jess Walter’s THE ZERO; and, though tangential, Mark Danielewski’s ONLY REVOLUTIONS and Dana Spiotta’s EAT THE DOCUMENT.

  2. What, did I miss the Athitakis takedown of O’Neil’s Netherland? Wasn’t that supposed to be the official “best post 9/11 novel?

    For the record, I loved the book as a domestic melodrama, but think NYC critics got a bit too horny about its alleged post-9/11 import.

    1. You’d have James Wood on your side on that front, Hans. See: And though I wouldn’t exactly call it a takedown, I did think that Netherland was “a beautifully formed love letter to New York City that’s boxed in by its own formality.” As a general rule, when New York critics tell you to get excited about a New York novel, watch your wallet, but there are important exceptions—“Lush Life” is every bit as good as people said it was.

      I really liked “The Echo Maker,” though I’m not sure it quite evokes the Dubya era (though with its themes of psychological and ecological damage, maybe…..). Though it came out in the Clinton era, I think “Gain” might better exemplify modern life in a craven, highly corporatized world, but then it’s just one of my favorite contemporary novels, period.

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