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Abstract

These books are an odd lot, landscapes and structures of eccentric designs: (1) a collection of stories by Frank Conroy, his first book since Stop Time (1967). Where Stop Time was a detailed, narrative autobiography that read like fiction, Midair is an often generalized, fragmented fiction with obvious autobiographical implications; (2) the weird diary of Arthur Crew Inman, over 1,600 pages of his often vile obsessions, handsomely edited and curiously published by Harvard University Press; (3) a study of nuclear anxiety over five decades, in the form of a polemical novel, by Tim O'Brien; (4) a collection of poems, also centered upon nuclear anxiety, by Maxine Kumin. And finally, two works that vivify social and aesthetic inquiry with the devices of fiction: (5) an intensely local epic on the Boston controversy over school integration, by J. Anthony Lukas; (6) a study, from the bare ground up, of a house built in Amherst, Massachusetts, written by Tracy Kidder. Each of these books sets out to embody and assess American civilization by evoking an appropriate emblem. Most of these writers bend their forms to fit the shapes of unique visions; however, read together, the works suggest strikingly similar concerns that update what Perry Miller called the New England Mind and that hint at the state of the nation.

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