The American Popular Novel After World War II

A Study of 25 Best Sellers, 1947–2000


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About the Book

Through the perspectives of selected best-selling novels from the end of World War II to the end of the 20th century—including The Catcher in the Rye, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Godfather, Jaws, Beloved, The Silence of the Lambs, and Jurassic Park—this book examines the crucial issues the U.S. was experiencing during those decades. These novels represent the voices of popular conversations, as Americans considered issues of family, class, racism and sexism, feminism, economic ambition, sexual violence, war, law, religion and science.
Through the windows of fiction, the book surveys the Cold War and anti-communism, the prefeminist era of the 1950s and the sexual revolution of the 1970s, forms of corporate power in the 1960s and 1980s, the traumatic legacies of slavery and Vietnam, the American fascination with lawyers, cops and criminals, alternate styles of romance in the era of late capitalism, our abiding distrust of science, and our steadfast wonder about the Great Mysteries.

About the Author(s)

David Willbern is professor emeritus of English at SUNY Buffalo, where he served as director of the Center for the Study of Psychoanalysis and Culture. He lives in Placitas, New Mexico.

Bibliographic Details

David Willbern
Format: softcover (7 x 10)
Pages: 264
Bibliographic Info: notes, bibliography, index
Copyright Date: 2013
pISBN: 978-0-7864-7450-9
eISBN: 978-1-4766-0248-6
Imprint: McFarland

Table of Contents

Preface 1
Introduction 5

1. Solitary Men: Boys in the City (I, the Jury, The Catcher in the Rye) 11
2. Social Women: Girls in Small Towns (Peyton Place, To Kill a Mockingbird) 22
3. Family Business and the American Dream (The Carpetbaggers, The Godfather) 38
4. Feminism Aloft and Adrift (Fear of Flying, Looking for Mr. Goodbar) 51
5. Appetites and Anxieties: The Unfathomed, the Undead, the Under Toad (Jaws, Interview with the Vampire, The World According to Garp) 65
6. Taking Care of Business (The Bonfire of the Vanities, I’ll Take Manhattan) 84
7. American Trauma (Misery, The Things They Carried, Beloved) 100
8. Law and Order (Presumed Innocent, The Silence of the Lambs, The Firm) 123
9. Romance in the Age of Late Capitalism (Rabbit at Rest, The Bridges of Madison County, Five Days in Paris) 141
10. Science and Superstition (Contact, Jurassic Park, Angels & Demons) 161

Conclusion: History / Story 184
Chapter Notes 191
Bibliography 225
Index 247

Book Reviews & Awards

“a rich spin through the popular literary consciousness of the past several decades…a useful, engaging book. Recommended”—Choice.