Page 14 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 49

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New Voices and the Contemporary
Jewish-American Novel
n e a r l y
f i f t e e n
y e a r s
a g o
Irving Howe gave expression to his
doubts about most contemporary Jewish-American fiction and
to his gloomy prognosis for its future:
My own view is that American Jewish fiction has probably
moved past its high point. Insofar as this body of writing draws
heavily from the immigrant experience, it must suffer a depletion
of resources, a thinning-out of materials and memories. Other
than in books and sentiment, there just isn’t enough left of that
experience . .. There remains, of course, the problem of “Jew­
ishness,” and the rewards and difficulties of definition it may
bring us. But this problem, though experienced as an urgent
one by at least some people, does not yield a thick enough sed­
iment of felt life to enable a new outburst of writing about Amer­
ican Jews . . . (Howe, 16).
More recently — at a much ballyhooed conference o f Israeli
and Jewish-American writers held at Berkeley (October 1988)
— T heodo re Solataroff made it clear that contemporary Jewish-
American fiction was, indeed, in the bad patch Howe had p re ­
The progress of assimilation has continued to erode the traces
of Jewish mores and ethos. The special angle of vision has blur­
red, and Jewish identity as a subject with a moral edge has tended
generally to decline. The development is particularly marked,
as one would expect, in the writers of the present generation
— the David Leavitts and Deborah Eisenbergs (Solotaroff, 1).
T h a t younger Jewish-American writers and critics should dis­
agree comes as no surprise. After all, the long-established often
feel that History itself will end when they do while those ju s t
beginning their careers necessarily bank on the fu tu re . About