Novels bring us into fictional worlds where we encounter the lives, struggles, and dreams of characters who speak to the underlying pulse of society and social change. In this book, post–World War II America comes alive again as literary critic Robert McParland tilts the rearview mirror to see the characters that captured the imaginations of millions of readers in the most popular and influential novels of the 1950s. This literary era introduced us to Holden Caulfield, Augie March, Lolita, and other antiheroes. Together with popular culture heroes such as Perry Mason and James Bond, they entertained thousands of readers while revealing the underlying currents of ambition, desire, and concern that were central to the American Dream. Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man and James Baldwin’s Go Tell It on the Mountain and Giovanni’sRoom explored racial issues and matters of identity that reverberate still today. The works of Jack Kerouac, the Beat poets Allen Ginsberg and Gregory Corso, and the clever and creative William S. Burroughs and his Naked Lunch challenged conventional perspectives. The People We Meet in Stories will appeal to readers discovering these works for the first time and to those whose tattered paperbacks reveal a long relationship with these key works in American literary history.
Robert McParland is professor of English and chair of the Department of English at Felician University. His books include Beyond Gatsby: How Fitzgerald, Hemingway, and Writers of the 1920s Shaped American Culture, Citizen Steinbeck: Giving Voice to the People, From Native Son to King’s Men[these could, alternately be enclosed in quotation marks and kept italicized]: The Literary Landscape of 1940s America, and Bestseller: A Century of America’s Favorite Books.
Robert McParland's work not only explores our deep attachment to the characters we encounter in fiction, but also offers a smartly researched survey of the literary culture that materialized in the United States during the 1950s. By highlighting many of the most memorable (and some forgotten) characters that emerged during that decade, this book captures the tensions and the questions that shaped American life during the Eisenhower years. An important and useful work for anyone interested in post-1945 US culture and history.