December 11, 2009

At last, the great American novel!

Every now and again a novel comes along that defines a particular time and age far more accurately than any treatise on sociology or philosophy can ever achieve. This is the power of well-written fiction. Such a novel has the potential to show us a picture of ourselves far more realistic than any academic work can display. Good fiction reaches deep inside the hearts and minds of real people and reveals their deepest held secrets far more effectively than psychology.

Charles Dickens, for example, was a master of this. "Great Expectations", "A Christmas Carole", and "David Copperfield" reveal both the glory and the ignominy of the human condition at the cusp of the industrial age in England, especially in London.

On this side of the Atlantic, defining "the great American novel" has presented an enigma for many scholars. Earnest Hemingway comes close in many of his works while William Faulkner at his best hits just off-target, but both writers leave far too much unsaid about how their characters arrived at a given crisis. Even worse, they do not begin to touch on what makes Americans different from their European, African, and Asian cousins. They fail to define the qualities of American culture that make it supremely and unmistakably American. Theodore Dreiser hints at the unique qualities of the American dream, but never clarifies why that dream is any different than the impossible yearnings of a Chinese peasant farmer, an Ethiopian herdsman, or a Peruvian tribesman.

My favorite novel of all time, Robert Heinlein's "Glory Road", probably comes closer to describing the essential American character than any classic work of American literature. Caught up in an impossible scenario of exotic travels through space and time is a confused American veteran fresh out of Vietnam in an era when most Americans could not find Vietnam on a map. The character approaches each and every wildly exotic encounter with bravado, gusto, and a streak of insecurity that will not leave him no matter how great his successes. The only thing keeping this work off the list of classics is its impossible and speculative setting that crisscrosses the universe as casually as you and I cross the street.

This, then, is the heart of the matter: What is the "great American novel"? Is it even possible to write such a beast? How does one capture the diversity and dynamism of a class-based society that is essentially classless? How does one reveal the freedom and struggle of climbing the social ladder without resorting to cynicism and sociopathy? Can a simple human writer ever bring to the pages of a single novel both the horrible prejudices and overwhelming charity of a nation so diverse and so dynamic that scholars praise it, ridicule it, and endlessly describe it, but never, ever come close to defining it? Perhaps the greatest oxymoron of all time is the creation of an academic curriculum called, "American studies". How does one study a society with no kings, no princes, no dictators, and no nobility? Can we even call this beast a "civilization" at all, let alone write a story so revealing that Americans of all races, sub-cultures, and families will find themselves on the pages? Maybe not and maybe there has never been a "great American novel" for precisely this reason.

And no, Kerouac's "On the Road" does not qualify. Kerouac speaks for a single generation of spoiled, middle-class American youth who even to this day have failed to define their own sense of integrity and ethics. The most defining feature of Kerouac's generation is their abandonment of what it means to be American and their embracing of the ego-centric self-indulgence that has long characterized entrenched economic and social elites throughout history. They remain an anomaly and an aberration. They are not "American" except in birth. Their personal values reflect a distorted and perverse misinterpretation of European aristocracy and nothing more. Their failure to even attempt to understand the values of their society, a failure that is vividly and lovingly described by Kerouac, is the very same rot and decay that is right now destroying the greatest culture that has ever existed. America is dying because Kerouac's parasitic generation is killing it.

There is, however, a glimmer of hope. Someone has stepped up with a novel that hits at the very heart of what it means to be American. Whether your ancestors arrived here across the land bridge with Asia, in the worsted cloth of evangelicals seeking a Biblical utopia, shackled in the holds of Dutch slave ships, or as refugees from the brutal and fiery collapse of ancient societies throughout the world, the promise of emotional and spiritual redemption along with the surety of being able to profit directly from your own sense of enterprise is what makes you American. For now, and perhaps for only a short while in the future, this freedom to create your own definition of success is what makes you unique in all the world.

Americans are not Americans because they carry a blue passport or because they were born between Canada and Mexico. Americans are who they are because this is the one society that up to now has guaranteed that if you put forth your best effort and conduct your life on a foundation of honest integrity, you will succeed. This freedom is what we stand to lose. This promise is what Kerouac's generation seeks to deny us. This light in the midst of five thousand years of oppression is the hope so many of us are right now fighting to preserve against the encroachment of globalist scholars, industrialists, and politicians.

The novel is called, "Off-Road". It is written by Stephen E. Wright. If you want to see what America really stands for, if you want to understand exactly what it is that makes America unique, if you want to know why America is the greatest nation that has ever existed, then read this book. "Off-Road" captures the heart of what it means to be American in a way no novel before it has ever done. If the liberal progressive agenda cannot be reversed, then this novel will be the last glimpse we will ever have of what American freedom truly means.