Honors | 21st Century American Fiction (HON)
H234 | 29002 | Gareth Evans
In this course, we’ll read 21st-century American novels, which, for
the most part, have been written by authors who made their name in
the 21st-century. The course has no thesis to propound, and the
novels we read vary in style, content, and concerns, just as the
authors vary in their race, ethnicity, gender, and regional
background. In Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, Foer experiments
with style, images, and typeface in a tale narrated by a boy whose
father died in the World Trade Center. In A Visit from the Goon
Squad, Jennifer Egan also experiments with the ways in which a story
may be told as she dips in and out of the lives of a group of people
involved in the music business since the mid 1970s. The novels by
Franzen and Goodman are both large, sprawling state of the nation
novels, and we’ll read them back-to-back, along with some of their
reviews, to see in part how the gender of the author often shapes a
novel’s reception. Junot Diaz’s version of American looks very
different from those of Franzen and Goodman, and in The Brief
Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao he focuses on an overweight Dominican-
American comic book fan, or nerd, and the alternately comic and
tragic events of his days in New Jersey and the Dominican Republic.
Chris Ware’s Jimmy Corrigan also focuses on a series of
dysfunctional men and is frequently hailed as the most important
graphic novel published during this century; an, indeed, the
inclusion of Ware’s book points, in part, to the rise of the graphic
novel to prominence during the last decade. The last two novels we
will read are both historical novels. In The Known World, Jones
tells a tale of slavery that focuses, in part, on African-American
owners of slaves, while Walbert’s A Short History of Women focuses
on the history of the women in one particular family from the 1890s,
through the period of early twentieth-century suffrage reform, and
into the twenty-first century. Range of method and concerns is the
key, then, and it’s that range we’ll explore in this class.
•Three 6-8 page essays. 90% of final grade.
•Attendance and participation in discussion and in-class activities.
10% of the final grade.
NOTE: The novels are listed in the order in which we will read them.
The novels by Franzen, Goodman, Jones, and Ware are all lengthy, and
I recommend that you read some or all of them over the summer.
Jonathan Safran Foer, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.
Jennifer Egan, A Visit from the Goon Squad.
Jonathan Franzen, Freedom.
Allegra Goodman, The Cookbook Collector.
Junot Diaz, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.
Chris Ware, Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid in the World.
Edward Jones, The Known World.
Kate Walbert, A Short History of Women.
Books are available at Boxcar Books, 408 E. Sixth Street,
Bloomington, IN 47408.