In the 60s and 70s, the”big” novel, the mega-novel, the total novel – call it what you will – was the rage. Pynchon, Barth and Gaddis are a few of the better-known producers of this type of novel. Some critics hailed them as the next big thing. But somehow they did not really catch on. Mailer (too little, too late, as always) and DeLillo did their bit, while there were new entrants such as David Foster Wallace and William T Vollmann. But, somehow, the whole thing seemed marginal to what was going on in American literature. Andrew Essex described them as difficult. It will be noted that these novels had several similarities but one obvious one was that they were generally written by white males. Ralph Ellison did try to write one but never completed it. Leon Forrest is the only African-American I am aware of that completed such a novel and he had a lot of difficulty getting it published. Leslie Marmon Silko is the only woman I know who wrote a mega-novel.
As well as generally being written by white, American males, these books have similar themes. They try to encompass everything – technology, exotic travel, contemporary American politics, American history, men and women, often sports – but they all too often seem to be about the manifest destiny of the USA and the American male in particular, which is strange as many of these writers are, nominally, liberals. Pynchon may be the king of this kind of novel but McElroy is close behind.
Joseph McElroy was born in Brooklyn in 1930 and was educated at Williams and Columbia. He served for a brief while in the Coast Guard. As well as writing novels he taught at the University of New Hampshire and Queens College of the City University of New York.
Joseph McElroy: fathoming the field
Attractions Around Mount St. Helens (article by McElroy)
1966 A Smuggler’s Bible
1969 Hind’s Kidnap: A Pastoral on Familiar Airs
1971 Ancient History: A Paraphase
1974 Lookout Cartridge
1987 Women and Men
1988 The Letter Left to Me
2003 Actress in the House
2003 Exponential (essays)
2010 Preparations for Search
2011 Night Soul and Other Stories