Understanding John Gardner introduces readers to the imagination of a popular and prolific American writer known for the novels Grendel, The Sunlight Dialogues, Nickel Mountain, and October Light as well as his provocative literary manifesto On Moral Fiction. A long-time scholar of the late novelist, John Howell places Gardner's major works within the context of a life and career that, although relatively brief, produced more than thirty books of fiction, poetry, drama, and criticism. Of particular significance is Howell's revisionary interpretation of Grendel, which is based on extensive interviews and conversations with the novelist.
Understanding John Gardner focuses on Gardner's war with nihilism and his search for redemptive love. Out of this spiritual conflict—and Gardner's commitment to parody—grew the thematic and formal tensions that objectify his tragicomic vision. Howell explores these thematic tensions and, in the process, reconciles the literary conservatism of On Moral Fiction with Gardner's radical experiments in narrative form.
John M. Howell is professor of English at Southern Illinois University-Carbondale. His previous books are Hemmingway's African Stories and John Gardner: A Biographical Profile, and he has published articles on Faulkner, Hemmingway, and other American writers.