I am so at home in Dublin, more than any other city, that I feel it has always been familiar to me. It took me years to see through its soft charm to its bitter prickly kernel - which I quite like too.

Kevin Stevens

Two Kinds of Life

Salter’s entry into the literary world happened at a time when Jewish novelists were moving centre stage in the United States. Bellow, Malamud, Roth, Heller, Mailer – these writers not only dominated American letters in the early sixties but made a point of mining their ethnicity in ways that altered significantly the landscape of postwar American fiction. Exactly their contemporary, Salter never saw himself as Jewish, at least not in any public way. Like Mailer and Heller, he would write about war; like Roth and Bellow, he was a master of dialogue. But he did not, as Anthony Burgess said of Malamud, search for meaning in “the situation of a Jew in urban American society”.

One Hand Clapping

Nowhere is this more true than in the United States, where the cult of celebrity holds a special place for authors and relentlessly cycles their work and personae through what Don DeLillo calls “the all-incorporating treadmill of consumption and disposal”. Though American literary life has had no shortage of self-aggrandisers the media is agitated most by those who play hard to get. DeLillo and Pynchon are recent examples. But the gold standard of American literary isolation is JD Salinger.

The Need to Disguise

Central to Alice Munroe’s aesthetic is the device, though it is really much more than a device, of jumping back and forward in time, enabling readers to hold multiple strands of the narrative in their consciousness, creating cross-sections of event and feeling that allow for rich expression of pathos and irony.

Increments of Uncertainty

As Updike’s word count mounted, so did the rancour. The New York Times’s Michiko Kakutani, considered by many the most powerful literary critic in America, regularly savaged his work. Over the last decade she accused successive novels of being “bogus in every respect”, “shopworn”, “cringe-making” and “claustrophobic”. Indeed the regularity of her vitriol was such that that when she gave the posthumously published My Father’s Tears a favourable notice, literary blogger Shane Barry commented: “We now know what Updike had to do to get a good review out of Kakutani.”

Everything He Hated

Like Swift and Twain, Roth is aesthetically propelled by anger; it supplies the energy needed for the massive, self-imposed task of dissecting, novel after novel, the suffocating paradoxes of twentieth-century America. Like Lenny Bruce, Roth in his early work used rant as a way of exercising his vitality and crafting an obscenity-fuelled response to a bland, hypocritical national environment. As he’s matured, however, his anger has grown more complex, manipulated as carefully as the shifting voices and points of view that help make his prolific body of fiction both deeply tragic and rich in comic expression.

The Ongoing Promise

“Books can contain all sorts of dire and dour information, opinion, behaviour, and not be pessimistic themselves. I hold with Sartre who wrote that we can write about the darkest possible things and still be optimistic, inasmuch as those writings prove that these dark things can be thought about – which to him was saving. And more practically, I think novels are all inherently optimistic, anyway, since they presume that a use will be made of them by a reader in some yet-to-arrive future.”