American postwar suburbanization is rarely—if ever—discussed through the rhetorics of postmodernism and globalization. The suburban novel genre contributes to the view of the suburbs as detached from such sweeping historical developments. Indeed the characteristic discontent found throughout suburban narratives stems from feelings of isolation and detachment. Joyce Carol Oates's novel provides an opportunity to rethink the relationship between supposedly private, domestic problems and public history. Through allusions to the Detroit riot of 1967 and the Vietnam War, Expensive People suggests an unusual connection between the public violence of these late-sixties conflicts, on the one hand, and the protagonist's “disintegration” and his mother's mysterious death—the ultimate products of their suburban discontent—on the other. This connection can be elaborated through the concepts of sprawl and deterritorialization, which help explain how the same racist, expansionist, capitalist agenda that has harmed the populations of inner-city Detroit and rural Vietnam can simultaneously benefit affluent white suburbanites. Expensive People should thus be read as a historiographical metafiction that satirizes the suburban genre, questioning the assumption that detachment and discontent go hand in hand in the American suburbs.

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