It may increasingly seem that irony’s era-defining moment in modern fiction has come to an end. Observers of contemporary writing have undoubtedly noticed a proliferation of texts that seek sincere engagements with readers and between characters: the empathy-inducing dystopias of George Saunders, for example, or Rachel Cusk’s nonmediated and narrative-dismantling fictions. The three texts under review here, however, complicate understandings of habits variously cast as irony, disavowal, and renunciation, suggesting that postmortems of the age of irony may be premature. Such habits may serve an instructive role for contemporary writers forming their cultural orientations. At their most potent, however, distancing practices underlie an aesthetics of lived experience, one potentially at odds with neoliberal ideologies of conformity and consent. The authors of these texts examine modes of difference: the opening of observational spaces by the ironist, the foregrounding of death as a paradoxical...

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