"The Card Games Ended After the Towers Fell" - The Post-9/11 Transatlantic Novel: From Postmodernism to the New Sincerity

Peter William Krause, Fordham University


In the weeks that followed the events of September 11, 2001, articles and essays appeared in many major American and British newspapers and magazines suggesting that the attacks had accelerated an epochal shift already under way in cultural values away from irony and towards sincerity. Ultimately, the task of pivoting the transatlantic novel from literary postmodernism to the new sincerity was taken up by authors such as Jonathan Franzen in Freedom, Don DeLillo in Falling Man, and Ian McEwan in Saturday. This project grounds the new sincerity textually and historically, charts the transition and its margins, and ultimately seeks to establish the cartography of a movement that is nascent, or perhaps even short-lived. Authors of the new sincerity emphasize mimesis, verisimilitude, and narrative continuity in order to create palatable, humanistic stories. Amid the convoluted, tectonic jostling of governments, corporations, and other large, powerful organizations (arguably the hallmark of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, exhaustively explained, critiqued, and co-opted by the postmodernists), it is necessary to re-center the recognizable, inhabitable human subject. What values do readers seek in post-9/11 novels? To what degree do readers want to be challenged by the complex geopolitical realities of the times, and to what degree do they want to be reassured that the soft assurances of empathy and beauty are still intact? By examining three marquee, realist novels published between 2005 and 2010, I demonstrate that the vulnerability felt after 9/11 disabused readers of the idea that cleverness, irony, and ever more complicated webs of allusion and pastiche are fulfilling substitutes for straightforward, humanistic, and unassuming stories that are relatable without being obnoxiously self-aware or overly didactic. 9/11 revealed that the West, for all its pretensions, is vulnerable, and the literature produced in its wake exemplifies this vulnerability, this return to fictions that are not the final, detached, cynical word on a subject, but rather affective, intensely human exercises in empathy.

Subject Area

American literature|Modern literature|British and Irish literature

Recommended Citation

Krause, Peter William, ""The Card Games Ended After the Towers Fell" - The Post-9/11 Transatlantic Novel: From Postmodernism to the New Sincerity" (2023). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI30489678.