The rich diversity of American fiction has always made newness difficult to characterize. But the 1980s have seen not only the arrival of fresh work by writers who have long established that diversity, but also the fracturing of literary culture along quasipolitical lines: the rise of a multi-ethnic literature encompassing the work of Chinese-Americans, Indians, African-Americans, and European ethnics, a growing gay literature, and new additions to feminist fiction. Powerful novels of Vietnam and its aftermath, many by combat veterans, have added to the cultural ferment. Yet all these often “radical” voices do not so much signal what has changed as serve the traditional end of extending our fiction’s longstanding concern with the drama of marginal man beating at the doors of society. The literary revolution of the eighties has erupted in a fiction of those who have already gained entry.
Perhaps nothing reveals what has changed more than the transformation of those heroes and anti-heroes propelled toward mythic stature by an avid college market. The youth-cult heroes of one period are made obsolete by those of another. Reflecting the aspirations and anxieties of coming-of-age, cult heroes dramatize the e...
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