Jonathan Baskin considers why Harold Brodkey, once hailed as “the American Proust,” has faded so quickly from our literary consciousness.
There are plenty of explanations for Brodkey’s current neglect, including the writer’s acrimonious relationship with the publishing industry and the failure of his later novels to fulfill the promise of earlier work. His own penchant for extolling his reputation and legacy perhaps intruded on a clearheaded appraisal of his writing. But readers and writers alike ignore his project at their peril. Brodkey’s prose, almost suffocating in its density and focus, was produced at a time when American novels were expanding in length and scope but shrinking from the great challenge of rendering individual consciousness. Gravity’s Rainbow, The Recognitions, and Underworld remain the landmarks of an encyclopedic fiction that subordinates the intimate depiction of character to the voluminous documentation of history and culture. Brodkey produced fiction that was epic too, but chiefly in its elaboration of human intimacy.
The latest Bookforum also includes an interview with Nadine Gordimer, Albert Mobilio’s review of Stephen Wright’s The Amalgamation Polka, Francine Prose’s thoughts on Anita Brookner’s latest, and a roundtable discussion about Google’s library project featuring Lawrence Lessig.