New York and Toronto Novels after Postmodernism: Explorations of the Urban

By Smith, Will | British Journal of Canadian Studies, July 1, 2012 | Go to article overview

New York and Toronto Novels after Postmodernism: Explorations of the Urban


Smith, Will, British Journal of Canadian Studies


Caroline Rosenthal, New York and Toronto Novels after Postmodernism: Explorations of the Urban (Woodbridge: Boydell & Brewer, 2011), 322 pp. Cased. £45. ISBN 978-1-57-113489-9.

This study offers a vital contribution to the burgeoning field of Canadian urban literary studies. Ostensibly comparing contemporary American and Canadian urban fiction, Rosenthal also addresses national traditions of urban literature and culture through a concise examination of the spatial narratives of America and Canada as affirmed and refracted in literature and literary criticism. Beginning by attempting to substantiate the lack of critical discussion around urban literary culture in Canada compared to America, Rosenthal convincingly invokes divergent historical notions of the pastoral in each nation to explain their subsequent urban traditions.

More provocatively, Rosenthal notes the similarities between New York and Toronto. Each city can be perceived as representative of the nation whilst also standing as a marked exception, as un-Canadian or un-American. To counterbalance a surfeit of critical discussions of New York literature, Rosenthal pays attention to recent investigations into Toronto literature, drawing on the work of Amy Lavender Harris. Rosenthal then gestures to the increasing visibility of Toronto literature, through anthologies and through the international profiles of authors such as Anne Michaels and Michael Ondaatje.

In individual chapters, Rosenthal addresses four novels: Dionne Brand's What We All Long For (2005), Carol Shields's Unless (2002), Siri Hustvedt's What I Loved (2003) and Paule Marshall's The Fisher King (2000). This portion of the study bears out the book's major aim, to look 'at urban texts by women writers of diverse ethnicities who react in politically and aesthetically diverse ways to the city in the period after postmodernism' (p. …

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