Can the novel survive in an age when tales of historical figures and contemporary personalities dominate the reading lists of the book-buying public?
Naomi Jacobs addresses this question in a study of writers such as William Styron, E. L. Doctorow, and Robert Coover, who challenge the dominance of nonfiction by populating their fictions with real people, living and dead. Jacobs explores the genesis, varieties, and implications of this trend in a prose as lively as that of the writers she critiques.
Using as a case study Robert Coover’s portrait of Richard Nixon in The Public Burning, Jacobs addresses the important legal and ethical questions raised by this trend and applies contemporary libel law to the fictionalization of living people, such as Richard Nixon. She closes her study by speculating on the future of this device and of the novel.