The Dylanist

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Sally Burke has always felt that she was special. In high school she decides that her destiny is to be a philosopher, but she never spends more than a passing thought on any deep or lasting issue of human experience. Instead, aided by marijuana and self-absorption, she drifts through college and two intimate relationships without finding anything more interesting than herself. She is flattered when a young man at a party, a union organizer like her father, identifies her as “a Dylanist ... You don’t believe in causes. You only believe in feelings.” Brian Morton thus dodges the challenging task of actually involving his protagonist in the events of these complicated times, but fails to deliver any feeling interesting enough to justify his title.

The issues that were being fought personally as well as politically are barely touched upon, and issues of particular importance to women are satirized and dismissed. The women’s movement never seems to touch Sally; instead, in a brief scene, her best friend from high school announces, in the mid-1970’s, that she has embraced feminism and that her next logical step is to become a lesbian. In the 1980’s, this same woman serves to illustrate greedy materialism: She has become a (heterosexual) yuppie lawyer. Another friend gives up a career as a professional dancer and becomes a stereotypical housewife with three children, envious of Sally’s freedom from responsibility. In fact, Sally’s life is anything but enviable. She is exploited as a paycheck and a nurse by her first live-in-boyfriend, Owen; she seeks to be cared for and protected by her second boyfriend, Ben, who earlier had named her a Dylanist.

When Sally’s father dies in part 4 of the novel, her extended, paralyzing grief is unconvincing. Ben indulges her without really helping, and they split up. The novel ends with Sally discovering that she is pregnant and returning to Ben, smugly confident that he will care for her and their child.

This novel frustrates by the opportunities missed to deal with important issues on a personal level. The reader seeking to understand what life was like for a woman choosing a more personal life during this era will be disappointed. Sally Burke is a character who missed out on the possibilities of her time.