Reading Note:
On Considering the Great American Novel
18 July 2014

¶ At TLS, Sarah Graham (currently at work on a book about Salinger’s short fiction) reviews Laurence Buell’s The Dream of the Great American Novel, and Buell’s approach to that dream, which carefully avoids the selection of one great American novel, sounds both comprehensive and intriguing. According to Graham, Buell sorts novels into four headings, or “scripts”:

  • Novels “made classic by retelling,” such as those concerned with the “ordeals of immigrant transplantation,” ranging from The Scarlet Letter through The Holder of the World.
  • “Up From” Novels. The great novels written to this template are extremely ironic about success. The Great Gatsby, late Roth.
  • Novels that “romance the divides” — between groups and races. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Beloved
  • Meganovels, in which a cast of characters collaborates on a massive project. Moby-Dick, Gravity’s Rainbow.

Graham concludes that Moby-Dick is “the most likely contender” for Great American Novel — a book that we find pervasively rubbishy and steeply unreadable, unquestionably the worst book on any syllabus. (via 3 Quarks Daily)