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Jane Smiley

Neil Nakadate

Provides insight into the strikingly imaginative and intellectual range of a Pulitzer Prize-winning writer

In this comprehensive study of Jane Smiley's ficiton, Neil Nakadate analyzes the fiction of the writer best known for A Thousand Acres. He provides close readings—from the early Barn Blind to The All-True Travels and Adventures of Lidie Newton—and presents the first extended account of the connections between her life and her work.

Drawing on the critical record, previously unpublished interviews with the novelist, and Smiley's own prolific commentary on literature, writing, and American culture, Nakadate examines her intellectual interests, social and philosophical concerns, and penchant for taking up different creative challenges with successive books. He traces the ongoing themes of her work, including those of family, environmental integrity, social institutions, economic and political dynamics, and the efforts of women to recover their identities in an often harsh and unreceptive world. Nakadate finds that Smiley's work has been influenced by her ongoing attention to the issues and interactions of family life but also owes much to a critical intelligence that ranges adventurously across numerous topics and disciplines.

Questioning the tendency to identify Smiley's writing as Midwestern or as domestic realism, Nakadate contends that her fiction is a discourse on—and across—American culture and that her oeuvre includes writing that, like her comic novel Moo, extends beyond family-related themes. He also suggests that much that appears Midwestern and domestic in Smiley's fiction discloses a preoccupation with larger motives and conditions of human affairs at the end of the twentieth century. Calling Smiley more an ironic realist than a romantic mythmaker, Nakadate accounts for her affinity with Austen, Dickens, and the more cerebral modernists—James, Woolf, and Mansfield—and her ability to create sensible, cautious, introspective characters who are bound by the unexceptional imperatives of appetite and daily expectation.

Neil Nakadate teaches courses in American literature and twentieth-century fiction at Iowa State University, where he is a professor of English and has received an award for career achievement in teaching. He has edited Robert Penn Warren: A Reference Guide and Robert Penn Warren: Critical Perspectives. Nakadate is also coauthor of Writing in the Liberal Arts Tradition and coeditor of A Rhetoric of Doing: Essays on Written Discourse in Honor of James L. Kinneavy.



book jacket for Understanding Jane Smiley


5 x 7
280 pages
ISBN 978-1-57003-251-6
cloth, $39.95s
Understanding Contemporary American Literature
Matthew J. Bruccoli, series editor


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