Studies ten American novels from the later twentieth century in the light of theories of narration and of the recent debate on the nature of fiction. After an introduction to the theoretical background, it analyzes works by Malamud, Bellow, Capote, Barth, Doctorow, Morrison, Oates, Ford, Smiley, and Kingsolver, emphasizing the complementary tendencies in American fiction to documentation of historical conditions and to the free play of the creative writer, to factual record and to self-conscious fabulation. It argues that the tension between these two tendencies expresses an acute concern with the limitations of modern life, with the writer's drive to constitute a realm of freedom, and with the challenges of reconciling the two.
This is a study of those aspects of the novel that contribute to the pace and rhythm of reading. It claims that those aspects contribute much to the significance of literature, because the rhythm of the work becomes an image of the way that time is perceived, and the reader's perception of time is profoundly connected with his or her moral sense and feeling of well-being. In some authors the passage of time is meticulously plotted and reproduced in the sequence of the text; in others it is confused and complicated by elisions, by disruption of sequence, by eccentric or elusive proportion of narrative to the lapse of time, by the author's varying distance from the characters and the events they undergo. But in all of them, time is conspicuous. Twentieth-century fiction presents itself as a way of coming to terms with the mystery and disquiet we feel when we try to say what time means to us.