Road-Book America: Contemporary Culture and the New Picaresque

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9780252025464: Road-Book America: Contemporary Culture and the New Picaresque

In this wide-ranging and sophisticated study, Rowland Sherrill explores the resurgence and transformation of an old literary form - the picaresque narrative - into a new form that he shows to be both responsive and instructive to late twentieth-century American life. Road-Book America discloses how the old picaresque tradition, embodied in such novels as Henry Fielding's Tom Jones and Daniel Defoe's Moll Flanders, opens to include a number of new American texts, both fiction and nonfiction, that decisively share the characterizing form. Sherrill's discussion encompasses hundreds of American narratives published in the past four decades, including such examples of the genre as William Least Heat-Moon's Blue Highways, John Steinbeck's Travels with Charley, James Leo Herlihy's Midnight Cowboy, Bill Moyers's Listening to America, and E. L. Doctorow's Billy Bathgate.Sketching the socially marginal, ingenuous, and traveling characters common to both old and new versions, Sherrill shows how the new American picaresque transforms the satirical aims of the original into an effort to map and catalog the immensity and variety of America. adaptability, the protagonist of the new American picaresque follows a therapeutic path for the alienated modern self. Mining the relevance of the reformulated picaresque for American life, Road-Book America shows how this old form, adaptable as the picaro himself, lays the groundwork for spiritual renewal and a restoration of cultural confidence in some old ways of being American.

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About the Author:

Rowland A. Sherrill, professor and chair of religious studies and director of the Center for American Studies at Indiana University/Purdue University at Indianapolis, is the author of The Prophetic Melville: Experience, Transcendence, and Tragedy, the editor of Religion and the Life of the Nation: American Recoveries, and coeditor of Religion and American Culture: A Journal of Interpretation.

Review:

"An essential source for scholars who wish to understand how contemporary American literature reflects American culture, this unique book is an important contribution to the literature." -- Choice "[An] impressive, voluminously annotated study... Recommended to students of religion, whether their approach be primarily sociological or literary of from the vantage point of cultural studies." -- Eric Ziolkowski, The Journal of Religion ADVANCE PRAISE "A fascinating study of American novels whose antiheroes go on the road to comment on contemporary social issues." -- Anne Cruz, author of Discourses of Poverty: Social Reform and the Picaresque Novel in Early Modern Spain "From start to finish, Road-Book America is instructive and provocative. Not only scholars but anyone deeply interested in American life and literature will find Sherrill's book significant and scintillating." -- John K. Roth, author of American Diversity, American Identity: The Lives and Works of 145 Writers Who Define the American Experience "By lifting up an enormous and neglected body of fresh American literature, Sherrill has opened a new window on contemporary American life. His book taught me what I have not learned from the polemicists: that America is a wild and various place, untamed by simple categories yet available to those who trail behind the American picaros and picaras." -- William D. Dean, author of The Religious Critic in American Culture

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