(Masterpieces of American Literature)

The Nowhere City, Lurie’s second published novel, is a somewhat malicious satire on California manners and customs, written from the point of view of someone who believes in the superiority of life in the eastern United States. In this early work, some of Lurie’s dominant themes become evident: marital disharmony, the transformational effect of adultery, and the shabbiness of American middle-class culture.

The central characters are Paul and Katherine Cattleman, a young historian and his wife who have come to California from Harvard University, where Paul was completing work on his doctorate. Paul has taken a job with The Nutting Research Development Corporation, a large electronic firm in Los Angeles; his assignment is to write a history and description of the company’s operations. To Paul, it is an ideal position: He will have time to write his dissertation and will be making twice the salary he would make as a young college instructor. Besides, he thinks of Los Angeles as an exciting and vital American frontier—the city of the future.

To his wife, Katherine, however, Los Angeles is a nightmare. The smog irritates her sinuses, the people look weird and freakish, the weather is hot and uncomfortable, and the city seems plastic and unreal. She is even attacked by a buffalo while visiting a zoo. Katherine’s Los Angeles is a cheap, shoddy city of commercial exploitation, with desperate people seeking success, love, some hero to worship, or some beauty to ogle.

A subplot involves Hollywood starlet Glory Green and her husband, Dr. Isadore Einsam, a successful Beverly Hills psychiatrist. Lurie often casts dissimilar characters into her novels, comparing and contrasting their lives and bringing them into unexpected relations with each other. In this novel, Katherine takes a job as a research assistant at UCLA, working for Einsam, and later, through Einsam, she...

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(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Costa, Richard Hauer. Alison Lurie. New York: Twayne, 1992.

Helfland, Michael S. “The Dialectic of Self and Community in Alison Lurie’s The War Between the Tates.” Perspectives on Contemporary Literature 3, no. 2 (1977): 65-70.

Kruse, Horst. “Museums and Manners: The Novels of Alison Lurie.” Anglia: Zeitschrift fur Englische Philologie 111 (1993): 410-438.

Lurie, Alison. “Alison Lurie: An Interview.” Interview by Liz Lear. Key West Review I (Spring, 1988): 42-52.

Lurie, Alison.“An Interview with Alison Lurie.” Interview by David Jackson. Shenandoah 31, no. 4 (1980): 15-27.

Newman, Judie. Alison Lurie: A Critical Study. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2000.

Pearlman, Mickey, and Katherine Usher Henderson, eds. “Alison Lurie.” In Inter/View: Talks with America’s Writing Women. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1990.

Stark, John. “Alison Lurie’s Career.” In Twayne Companion to Contemporary Literature in English. Vol. 1. New York: Twayne-Thomson Gale, 2002.

Watkins, Susan. “’Women and Wives Mustn’t Go Near It’: Academia, Language, and Gender in the Novels of Alison Lurie.” Revista Canaria de Estudios Ingleses 48 (2004): 129-146.