(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

The specific gravity of The Resurrection is very great. James Chandler, a metaphysician living in a time of analysis, feels that he was born out of time. Because of his interests, however perverse for this age, and because he is dying from leukemia, he might be forgiven for being concerned about important questions that, as a philosopher, he is prepared to discuss at an elevated level. Since James Chandler is a philosopher who comes from the mind of a novelist, he also might be forgiven for having an interest in aesthetics, though of course it is the novel itself that is Gardner’s aesthetic response to very heavy questions.

Immediately after the diagnosis of his illness, Chandler decides to return to Batavia in western New York, the town in and near which he (and the author) grew up. He, his wife, and their daughters stay there with his mother, still alive though failing; his father, an undereducated man of intelligence who spent much of his time trying to perfect a perpetual-motion machine, has died. Also still alive are the Staley sisters, whom Chandler soon visits, all mediocrities but important in the town in their day: One was a painter, though she now is senile; one still gives piano lessons; and one, now deaf, was a singer. Their vestigial status says much about the culture of Batavia. Their niece, Viola, takes care of them and their house and, ill-used by them and by life, is bitter. She becomes much less so as she comes to love James Chandler, a pipe-smoking, fair-haired, owl-faced man with glasses, who—glasses excepted—resembles Gardner.

The sisters in their varying artistic ways are trying to order life, to make it conform to some rules. So are some students at a local institution for the blind, watched in fascination by the Chandler girls, as they try to play baseball. Of course, once the ball stops rolling, the players have no way to find it except by...

(The entire section is 781 words.)


(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Butts, Leonard. The Novels of John Gardner: Making Life Art as a Moral Process. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1988. Butts draws his argument from Gardner himself, specifically On Moral Fiction (that art is a moral process) and discusses the ten novels in pairs, focusing on the main characters as either artists or artist figures who to varying degrees succeed or fail in transforming themselves into Gardner’s “true artist.” As Butts defines it, moral fiction is not didactic but instead a matter of aesthetic wholeness.

Chavkin, Allan, ed. Conversations with John Gardner. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1990. Reprints nineteen of the most important interviews (the majority from the crucial On Moral Fiction period) and adds one never before published interview. Chavkin’s introduction, which focuses on Gardner as he appears in these and his other numerous interviews, is especially noteworthy. The chronology updates the one in Howell (below).

Cowart, David. Arches and Light: The Fiction of John Gardner. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1983. Discusses the published novels through Mickelsson’s Ghosts, the two story collections, and the tales for children. As good as Cowart’s intelligent and certainly readable chapters are, they suffer (as does so much Gardner criticism) insofar as they are concerned with validating Gardner’s position on moral fiction as a valid alternative to existential despair.

Henderson, Jeff. John Gardner: A Study of the Short Fiction. Boston: Twayne, 1990. Part 1 concentrates on...

(The entire section is 714 words.)