'K Marts and Lost Parents'

'Dirty Realism' in Contemporary American and Irish Fiction

in Critical Survey
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  • 1 Loughborough University
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Although not strictly speaking a ‘dirty realist’ novel, American Pastoral is clearly indebted to the genre. Concerned with a generation which, despite its money, is only one removed from the city’s Old Prince Street ghetto – Seymour Levov’s father left school at fourteen to work in a tannery to support a family of nine – the 1960s proves ‘dirtier’ than the past. Prosperous Newark becomes ‘the car-theft capital of the world’ and the Levov’s neighbourhood, reminiscent of ‘dirty realist’ writing, becomes a seedy district where, apart from a liquor store, a pizza stand and a church, everything is ruined and boarded up. Initially, as in ‘dirty realist’ writing, fantasies about family and community hide ‘the way things actually work’.1 But a significant element of American Pastoral is its implicit argument in favour of ‘dirty realism’. If we accept the novel’s gist, the need for Seymour to be released from myth into the complexity and messiness of history, then ‘dirty realism’, as beyond pastoral and outside a linear, progressive model of history, is relocated as a mode of writing which buys into postmodern critiques of monolithic narratives and fixed subject-positions.

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