- The Washington Times - Monday, July 10, 2006

Time magazine’s Lev Grossman has an interesting — if overwritten — piece on why there’s no towering figure among today’s youngish literary fiction writers. He cites Zadie Smith (“White Teeth”), Jonathan Safran Foer (“Everything is Illuminated”), Jhumpa Lahiri (“The Namesake”) and Gary Shteyngart (“Absurdistan”) as imperfect candidates for the elusive title of “Voice of a Generation.”

Of these, I’ve only read Smith and Foer, so be sure to break out the salt shaker on my half-informed opinions on the matter. But Grossman’s theory about why America’s literati haven’t coalesced around a single author struck me as reasonable — and maddening. He writes:

 

If the novelists under 40 have a shared preoccupation, it is — to put it as dryly as possible — immigration. They write about characters who cross borders, from East to West, from Old World to New and back again, and the many and varied tolls they pay along the way. Their shared project, to the extent that they have one, is the revision of the good old American immigrant narrative, bringing it up to code with the realities of our multicultural, transcontinental, hyphenated identities and our globalized, displaced, deracinated lives. It’s a literature of multiplicity and diversity, not one of unanimity, an it makes the idea of a unifying voice of a generation seem rather quaint and 20th century.

 

Good grief. “Multicultural, transcontinental, hyphenated identities”? “Displaced, deracinated lives”? I guess these writers are just too darned cosmopolitan — or in the thrall of Salman Rushdie — to take on small-fry subjects such as, say, the American South or West or the city of Chicago.

I guess the frontier is closed.