Robert Towers (1923–1995) was an American critic and novelist. Born in Virginia, Towers was educated at Princeton and served for two years as Vice Counsel at the American Consulate General in Calcutta before dedicating himself to literary studies. He taught English literature and creative writing at Princeton, Queens College and Columbia.

Look Homeward, Ira

The oddity of Henry Roth’s career keeps getting in the way as one reads Mercy of a Rude Stream. Had he written a number of novels during his eighty-seven years, one could try to place the new work by comparing it with the others. But we have only a single …

Far from Saigon

The dark horse winner of this year’s Pulitzer Prize, a writer named Robert Olen Butler had, it turned out, published six little-noticed novels, with subjects ranging from the war in Vietnam to atomic tests in Los Alamos and labor unrest in a Depression-era steel town. To judge from the two …

Out of the Blue

In a review of Peter Taylor’s previous collection, The Old Forest and Other Stories, almost eight years ago, I observed that Taylor, among the finest living American writers of realist short fiction, avoided the melodrama and extreme situations characteristic of so many other southern writers, including Faulkner and O’Connor: in …

House of Cards

The Australian writer Peter Carey is little known in the US, although for the last few years he has been living in New York and teaching at New York University. His lack of following is as, mystifying as it is regrettable, since his novels contain scenes so powerfully visualized and …

Secret Histories

Nicholson Baker is a fiction writer of great charm who may or may not be a novelist. Certainly narrative is the least of his concerns. In The Mezzanine (1988) the “action” begins with the narrator’s entrance into the office building where he works and concludes with his ascent of the …

The World We Live In

Ward Just is in many ways the contemporary American equivalent of the late C.P. Snow. Like Snow’s, his novels are situated with great precision in the “real” world, realistically rendered, and they are concerned with power, with decision making, and with the far-reaching consequences of the decisions made. While they …

Believe It or Not

Prolific and astonishingly inventive, J.G. Ballard has in the last quarter century established himself as perhaps the most “literary” of contemporary writers of science fiction. His highly idiosyncratic stories and novels have won the enthusiastic endorsement of Anthony Burgess, Graham Greene, and Susan Sontag as well as (more predictably) Ray …

History Novel

Don DeLillo’s reputation had been advancing stealthily for more than a decade before the publication of White Noise (1985) and Libra (1989) secured his current position as one of the most original, intelligent, and visionary novelists now writing in America. He had by this time created a distinctive fictional world, …

Tripping the Not-So-Light Fantastic

John Barth is known as the procreator of sacred monsters—strange hybrid creatures endowed with attributes that display his erudition, gift for mimicry, and perversity, in almost equal proportions. These qualities are all present in his vast, tumbling “historical” novel, The Sot-Weed Factor, with its evocations of Defoe and Smollett; the …

Enigma Variations

Paul Auster is one of those protean novelists who cannot be identified with a recognizable voice or predictable range of subject. There are however common characteristics in his six novels: a fondness for enigmatic situations, a fascination with the ways that chance and destiny may seem to intersect, and an …

Inconclusive Evidence

Scott Turow’s first novel, Presumed Innocent, appeared three years ago, remained on the Times best-seller list for fifty-four weeks, and has just been made into a movie. For much of its length it is an interesting, competently written work of detective and courtroom fiction, with a wider social range than …

Short Satisfactions

Alice Munro (whose sixth collection of stories this is) amusingly suggests her approach to writing short fiction in the story “Differently”: Georgia once took a creative-writing course, and what the instructor told her was: Too many things. Too many things going on at the same time; also too many people.

You Can Go Home Again

Russell Banks is one of a group of American realists concerned with the latter-day condition of some “non-ethnic” Americans of very old stock, whose ancestors (some of them) settled in North America as long ago as the seventeenth century. But far from living in Federal houses or belonging to suburban …

The Raw and the Cooked

During the past decade in particular, the line separating fiction from autobiography has frequently seemed on the point of being almost erased. Novel after novel has appeared in which not only the background and chronology but also the major events of the first-person narrator’s life closely parallel what is publicly …

Mystery Women

As a novelist, Margaret Atwood never seems out of control. Whatever rage or disappointment may smolder underneath, the surfaces of her fiction are unusually cool and dry. The daughter of an entomologist, she must have absorbed from an early age the high value attached to precision, detachment, and honesty in …

Intruders in the Dust

As the South gives way to the Sunbelt, southern novelists are having to reckon with a steady erosion of the regional distinctiveness that formerly provided not only the surface but the main subject of their art. The softening of overt racial injustice and violence has been accompanied by increased racial …

Roughing It

Louise Erdrich’s first novel, the prizewinning Love Medicine (1984), presents, as through rifts in a smoke screen, lurid glimpses of the struggle of a group of Chippewa and mixed-blood Indians to cope with a life of poverty, alcoholism, and general demoralization on or near a reservation in North Dakota. The …

From the Grassy Knoll

Though he is yet to write a work as prodigious as Gravity’s Rainbow or as sensational as An American Dream, Don DeLillo has, with nine novels to his credit, supplanted both Pynchon and Mailer as chief shaman of the paranoid school of American fiction. Beginning as a fantasist, he has …

The Way We Live Now

Iris Murdoch seems headed toward an almost Trollopian record of productivity. Like Trollope but unlike, say, Dickens, she has become, since the early, “experimental” phase of Under the Net and The Flight from the Enchanter, a novelist of remarkably even achievement and pleasurable predictability, one who can be counted on …

All-American Novels

The judges of literary prizes probably feel the need for originality almost as strongly as the writers whom they assess. In a year that produced major new works by Philip Roth and Toni Morrison, a notable collection of stories by Richard Ford, and a favorably reviewed best-seller by Gail Godwin, …

Grace Street Blues

Scott Turow’s first novel has been first on the best-seller list of The New York Times for many weeks. It has been widely and, for the most part, favorably reviewed, and one must assume that its readers include a considerable number with literary tastes who do not automatically buy every …

Breaking the Spell

Just when one had Ruth Prawer Jhabvala fixed as a writer of clever novels of manners in the British mode but with an Indian setting, she produced Heat and Dust (1975), a work that was more acutely perceptive about the Anglo-Indian experience than any other novel (including those of Paul …

Danger Zones

As a crazed but prophetic priest in The Thanatos Syndrome says of the Jews, Walker Percy as a writer is “unsubsumable.” Certainly he cannot be comfortably subsumed under any of the categories to which his fellow American writers are likely to be assigned. He seems to enjoy playing the part …

The Wild Blue Yonder

In his twenty-ninth book of fiction, Louis Auchincloss has chosen to write about the most publicized (if not productive) pursuit of Reaganesque capitalism: the engrossing game of corporate takeovers. The novel’s subject, matching its title in trendiness, would seem to provide an ideal occasion for this prolific lawyer-novelist, who is …

Ways Down South

Kate Vaiden is Reynolds Price’s sixth novel, and it has already renewed interest in a writer whose career had a strong beginning (A Long and Happy Life, A Generous Man) but then seemed to sag under the weight of several honorable, talkative, but less than gripping novels. As Price informs …

Good News

The Anglo-Irishman William Trevor writes in a tradition of storytelling that is seldom encountered in America today. He takes for granted the importance of the historical and social setting in which he places his characters and takes pains to render it plausibly. He knows that class distinctions matter, even when …

Screams and Whispers

Assault, rape, brutal domination, exquisite torture—such activities figure largely in what might be called the higher pornography (L’Histoire d’O, for instance), where they are the expected lot of the heroine-victim. But there is another kind of novel (perhaps not unrelated) in which the palpably aggressive component is directed not so …

Three-Part Inventions

In a world of ideal literary forms, autobiography, however fictionalized in certain of its aspects, would exist as a genre distinct from the novel, however much the latter might be derived from the author’s personal experience. Often the distinction is clear enough: for a variety of reasons involving style, rhetoric, …

Moveable Types

Almost single-handedly, David Lodge has done what many would have thought impossible. He has taken a moribund—some might have said dead—minor genre, the academic novel, from its sickroom, set it on its feet, given it a slap or two, and sent it out to places it has never entered before.