Shaun O'Connell brings his usual insights to his book review essay. "Our novelists," he concludes, "have served us better than our politicians in classifying our condition" — an accomplishment that is somewhat less grand than it seems when we remember that the recent competition came from George Bush's "Read my lips" and "A thousand points of light" and Michael Dukakis's "Good jobs at good wages" and "I'm on your side."

Among the works discussed in this essay: Firebird, by James Carroll; Where I'm Calling From: New and Selected Stories, by Raymond Carver; Paris Trout, by Pete Dexter; Selected Stories, by Andre Dubus; Jack Gance, by Ward Just; A Writer's America: Landscape in Literature, by Alfred Kazin; Spence + Lila, by Bobbie Ann Mason; A Bright Shining Lie: John Paul Vann and America in Vietnam, by Neil Sheehan; and Breathing Lessons, by Anne Tyler.



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