Steven Millhauser 1943–
American adult novelist.
Millhauser explores the pains and pleasures of growing up through the fascination children and teenagers have for violence and the unknown. Suicide and deadly games often play important roles in his books. The adult world has a peripheral existence in the author's fiction and is important only as an illumination of childhood. Millhauser relieves his unsentimental, sometimes harsh vision of childhood through a subtle playfulness of tone. Another major concern in Millhauser's writings is literature; his works parody specific genres and authors and abound in literary allusions.
Millhauser deeply impressed critics and readers with his fresh approach to childhood and adolescence in his first two books. Edwin Mullhouse: The Life and Death of an American Writer, 1943–1954, by Jeffrey Cartwright satirizes literary biographies which too often concentrate on the trivialities of a writer's life. On the surface, a comprehensive study of the language and lore of middle-class childhood, the story also presents childhood genius and creativity cut short by the limitations imposed by adults. The tone and characterization of the book have been compared to both Vladimir Nabokov's Pale Fire and J. D. Salinger's stories about the Glass family. The admittedly beautiful prose has been criticized for lacking any real meaning, yet critics cite a maturity and originality not often found in a first novel.
Portrait of a Romantic, Millhauser's second book, continues the subjects of Edwin—art, human relationships, and childhood—into their later, darker phases and deals mostly with the more disturbing and destructive forces of growing up. With Portrait, Millhauser has been accused of neglecting acne, guilt, paranoia, and other aspects of a normal adolescence, while drawing praise for his competent handling of the characters's sensibilities. Millhauser is considered an important new talent in contemporary literature for his unconventional attitudes toward childhood and for his outstanding talent at description.