Critical Context

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Although Beyond the Bedroom Wall uses some modernist technical devices, largely in varying point of view, it is essentially an old-fashioned family history. In fact, it might seem to owe its artistic lineage to more primitive sources such as the saga, or as the quotations at the beginning from an early traveler’s account of the Dakotas suggest, the voyage-narrative. As such, it suffers from some artistic limitations. The author overindulges his powers of recall. Apart from death and threatened death, the novel lacks dramatic incident. It is too diffuse.

Nevertheless, it is the best of the author’s three novels. Nominated for a National Book Award and a National Book Critics Circle Award in 1976, it enjoyed both a critical and commercial success. Moreover, it is a significant landmark in an important struggle which continues to characterize a recent important trend in American fiction.

This struggle is between the city and the soil, between metropolitan styles and rural values, between individual freedom and family obligations. Beyond the Bedroom Wall not only reflects such cultural tensions but also attempts to articulate their sources and their human urgency. Despite its technical deficiencies, therefore, this novel goes beyond being an admirable act of homage to everyday life. It is also an important chapter in the sociology of the contemporary American novel and a meditation on the culture of Middle America in mid-century.