Nightmare on Elm Street: Nervous laughter and heart -stopping fear in recent suburban novels and films

Kathryn H Knapp, Fordham University


My dissertation examines recent novels and films that represent contemporary suburban experience, such as Richard Ford's The Sportswriter , Independence Day, and The Lay of the Land; A. M. Homes' Music For Torching; T. C. Boyle's Tortilla Curtain; and Alan Ball's American Beauty. I argue that these works critique the suburb not merely to malign it, but to offer an alternative, sustaining vision of community. The suburbs today bear little resemblance to the "bedroom communities" of the 1950s and 60s, and the stories that have emerged from them are correspondingly different. The distinctions between the city and the suburb have become increasingly blurred. For instance, as of 2000, 51 percent of the population lived in the suburbs, and trends indicate that percentage will only increase. By 2000, only 22 percent of the population held jobs within 3 miles of a city center, and a 2006 Brookings Institution report indicates that both more immigrants and more people in poverty now live in the suburbs than in the city. The uncertainty at the core of recent suburban works reflects the rapid growth and changes that have redefined contemporary suburban experience. The works I focus on do not merely reflect but renegotiate the terms by which we define the suburb. The "suburban myth" has been propagated by urban intellectuals who have located in the suburbs all that they disdain about the white middle class. Yet the protagonists who populate the novels and films of my dissertation are themselves transplanted urban intellectuals who must now reexamine and, to one degree or another, reappropriate the middle-class values of tradition, family, and community that they are predisposed to distrust. There is a sense of urgency to these novels and films one does not find in earlier suburban stories. In a New York Times editorial immediately after the September 11th attacks, Richard Ford urged his fellow suburbanites "to think large and small at once about whom we're connected to and separate from and about what we mean by community." It is my argument that this is precisely the cultural work these novels and films aspire to do.^

Subject Area

American Studies|Literature, American

Recommended Citation

Knapp, Kathryn H, "Nightmare on Elm Street: Nervous laughter and heart -stopping fear in recent suburban novels and films" (2007). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI3271269.