Monday, September 12, 2005

a time of assassins

On the fourth anniversary of 9/11, Benjamin Kunkel (Indecision) looks at the American terrorist novel.

Soon after the attacks, critics began asking what would become of two literary preoccupations of the 90's: the tone called ''irony'' and the genre called, with more justice, the social novel. Novelists have lately begun to return their answers. And yet there was something in the American novel of what you might call the long 1990's -- from 1989 to 2001 -- at least as conspicuous as the tortured wish for emotional sincerity and the appetite for historical significance. This was -- and is, since for the novel that period is ending only now -- the extraordinary number of fictional terrorists jostling one another for our attention. About as many major authors wrote about terrorists during the 90's as did not, and you are probably more likely to meet a terrorist in the pages of a recent American novel than anyone besides a college professor.

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