Giants of American literature reveal how they are responding to a transformed society
by Robert McCrum, The Guardian
On the night of 8 November 2016, the United States, a mature republic of 241 summers, experienced a dreadful upset and fell into a condition that hovered between catatonia and hysteria.
On college campuses, young women were throwing up. Others were setting fire to things, or phoning their families in tears. Among distraught middle-class Democrats, there was a dramatic spike in psychotherapeutic appointments. Across New York City, a spontaneous graffito, “Not My President”, summarised the metropolitan mood.
As the tide of history slackened towards Christmas, the national response moved through the stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining and depression. Come the new year, there has been the beginning of the fifth stage, acceptance. The end is nigh is the consensus, but not that nigh.
Besides, there are remedies. Americans know that, ever since Jefferson drafted the Declaration of Independence, theirs is a society constructed with strokes of the pen, in words. Their constitution is a work in progress, constantly rewritten, and the power of an idea is stronger than a demagogue with no ideology. American writers know this better than anyone.
As the unanticipated transition from Obama to Trump gathered momentum, I set out across the east coast to meet six authors – Marilynne Robinson, Richard Ford, Walter Mosley, Ariel Levy, Malcolm Gladwell, and Lionel Shriver – in search of a new society. Marilynne Robinson, author of Housekeeping and Gilead, is one of Obama’s favourite writers. She understands America’s frontier instincts, and she’s a Christian, which connects her to another part of the American dream. In conversation with her, the rewriting of America seems at once rational and practicable. Her articulate resilience suggests that the republic is probably not yet “broken”. In her company, the challenge of the new administration seems answered by the integrity, candour, and good humour of the American mind at its best. Talk to Robinson, and you can detect the beginnings of an opposition to Trump. She admits she has been galvanised by America’s crisis. “I’m frankly sort of glad that this bizarre thing has happened,” she says. “Trump has brought us to a state where we will have to do a lot of very basic thinking about how our society goes on from this point.” Read the rest of this entry »