Critical Context

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

To the general reading public, Stanley Elkin’s work is still largely unknown, though with the publication of The Franchiser he began to gain some well-deserved recognition. Elkin’s fiction is regarded by some critics as difficult and, at times, as lacking in form and control to the point of self-indulgence. These judgments might be countered by a knowledge of Elkin’s work as it has evolved from his first novel, Boswell (1964), to The Magic Kingdom (1985). Elkin has always been interested in the exaggerated peculiarities of the individual vision and voice; he is a master of intonation and nuance. Perhaps no other contemporary writer has so successfully captured the varied lifestyles and patois of contemporary Americans as they have been affected by the avid consumerism of their culture.

In The Franchiser, his most successful novel thus far, Elkin brings all of his talent for mimicry to bear on the shaggy-dog story of Ben Flesh’s travels, where life and death are held in a tenuous balance. The maintenance of that balance is the real story that The Franchiser tells, as it is the story of Elkin’s fiction in general. Thus, Elkin joins those other major contemporary writers—John Barth, Thomas Pynchon, John Hawkes, Saul Bellow, John Updike—who discuss, in their diversity, man’s chances for survival in an illusory world of accidents and orders beyond his control.