Contemporary Culture and the New Picaresque
In an alienating and ever-changing America, Sherrill demonstrates that the American Road Book is a way for both author and reader to travel together on a journey of self-discovery.
In this wide-ranging and sophisticated study, Rowland Sherrill explores the resurgence and transformation of an old literary form--the picaresque narrative--into a new form that he shows to be both responsive and instructive to late twentieth-century American life.
Road-Book America discloses how the old picaresque tradition, embodied in such novels as Henry Fielding's Tom Jones and Daniel Defoe's Moll Flanders, opens to include a number of new American texts, both fiction and nonfiction, that decisively share the characterizing form. Sherrill's discussion encompasses hundreds of American narratives published in the past four decades, including such examples of the genre as William Least Heat-Moon's Blue Highways, John Steinbeck's Travels with Charley, James Leo Herlihy's Midnight Cowboy, Bill Moyers's Listening to America, and E. L. Doctorow's Billy Bathgate.
Sketching the socially marginal, ingenuous, traveling characters common to both old and new versions, Sherrill shows how the "new American picaresque" transforms the satirical aims of the original into an effort to map and catalog the immensity and variety of America.
Open, resilient, perennially hopeful, and endowed with a protean adaptability, the protagonist of the new American picaresque follows a therapeutic path for the alienated modern self. Mining the relevance of the reformulated picaresque for American life, Road-Book America shows how this old form, adaptable as the picaro himself, lays the groundwork for spiritual renewal and a restoration of cultural confidence in some old ways of being American.
"An essential source for scholars who wish to understand how contemporary American literature reflects American culture, this unique book is an important contribution to the literature." -- Choice
"[An] impressive, voluminously annotated study. . . . Recommended to students of religion, whether their approach be primarily sociological or literary of from the vantage point of cultural studies." -- Eric Ziolkowski, The Journal of Religion
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