Magazine article Times Higher Education

Utopia and Terror in Contemporary American Fiction: Books

Magazine article Times Higher Education

Utopia and Terror in Contemporary American Fiction: Books

Article excerpt

Utopia and Terror in Contemporary American Fiction. By Judie Newman. Routledge, 182pp, Pounds 80.00. ISBN 9780415899123. Published 16 January 2013

In 2002 Martin Amis said: "After a couple of hours at their desks on September 12, 2001, all the writers on earth were reluctantly considering a change of occupation." Many said that 9/11 could not, or should not, be written about; others argued to the contrary. And, as Amis implies, the compulsion of the writer is to address such events.

The intervening decade has provided readers with a plethora of literature written in response to or referencing the attacks on the Twin Towers. Those works have, in turn, given rise to a stream of books analysing the literary response to the act of terror. Some are concerned with contextualising works in the light of those written about previous conflicts; others seek to overview and analyse the literary responses generated.

Judie Newman's Utopia and Terror in Contemporary American Fiction represents a sharper focus on the concept of terror in relation to the seemingly contradictory notion of Utopia. Focusing on texts published in the past 15 years, she begins investigating those that address the concept of Utopia through language and symbol.

She uses Amy Waldman's satirical short story Freedom to pose questions about the quest for Utopia and its relationship with desire. In an attempt to create a "happy" island nation for released prisoners, who closely resemble those held captive in Guantanamo Bay, Waldman's "freedom" becomes an exercise in the manipulation of desire by an autocratic dictator. Her story is set in a globalised world reliant on the commodification of emotion to drive it.

Newman furthers her investigation with a close reading of the imagery in the short stories of Kim Edwards, whose descriptions of "other worlds" are delivered as vivid moments of perfection. However, whose image of perfection is being explored, and what do these notions of perfection rely on? …

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