White Flights is a meditation on whiteness in American fiction and culture from the end of the Civil Rights Movement to the present. At the heart of the book, Jess Row ties “white flight”—the movement of white Americans into segregated communities, whether in suburbs or newly gentrified downtowns—to white writers setting their stories in isolated or emotionally insulated landscapes, from the mountains of Idaho in Marilynne Robinson’s Housekeeping to the claustrophobic households in Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections. Row uses brilliant close readings of work from well-known writers such as Don DeLillo, Annie Dillard, Richard Ford, and David Foster Wallace to examine the ways these and other writers have sought imaginative space for themselves at the expense of engaging with race.
White Flights aims to move fiction to a more inclusive place, and Row looks beyond criticism to consider writing as a reparative act. What would it mean, he asks, if writers used fiction “to approach each other again”? Row turns to the work of James Baldwin, Dorothy Allison, and James Alan McPherson to discuss interracial love in fiction, while also examining his own family heritage as a way to interrogate his position. A moving and provocative book that includes music, film, and literature in its arguments, White Flights is an essential work of cultural and literary criticism.
“For Row, there’s an analogue [to white flight] in contemporary fiction: white authors fleeing the problem of race . . . Row demonstrates this through astute close readings in which he analyzes postwar fiction with a loving sternness that avoids didacticism even as he ping-pongs among cultural artifacts, decoding everything from Don DeLillo’s Underworld to emo music . . . We should accompany Row through this important inquiry.”—The New York Times Book Review
“[Jess Row] open[s] a dialogue about how white literature often ignores nonwhite experiences and narratives, and how to create a space for inclusivity that starts with the writing arena . . . He’s brilliant and insightful.”—The Washington Post
“Row’s humbleness makes [White Flights] possible, as he writes about a place of reconciliation we have yet to reach . . . Row’s work is a step toward undermining this binary classification, and an opportunity to decode all that has come before.”—Star Tribune (Minneapolis)
“[Jess Row] tackles head-on the conundrums most of us like to deflect—such as whether people have a ‘right’ to represent other races in fiction—and he does so thoughtfully and gracefully, but without equivocation or evasion.”—Vulture
“With this groundbreaking book, [Jess Row] explores how literature can, but also could, shape the way we interact with people from different backgrounds.”—Inside Hook
“A major literary and intellectual intervention, clarifying the real stakes in what we too complacently call ‘identity politics.’”—Pankaj Mishra
“Jess Row performs a much-needed analysis . . . The landscape of the imagination, like the country itself, he argues with rich insight and brio, is neither equal nor free.”—John Keene
“With care and complexity, White Flights furthers a crucial national conversation on whiteness, white spaces, and racism, and how these concepts define American literature. More than just provoking thought, this book will provoke dialogue and discussion—exactly what we all need.”—Beth Bich Minh Nguyen
“This intelligent collection is often deeply engaged in realms of philosophy and literary theory . . . There is something for every reader . . . in the message that fiction not only reflects but acts upon real life, and that each of us is obliged to act for justice, in reading and writing as in life.”—Shelf Awareness
“Wide-ranging, erudite, and impassioned . . . Row melds memoir, literary and cultural criticism, and philosophical reflection in seven essays that examine how whiteness is imagined and represented in ‘novels, short stories, films [and] plays’ . . . [White Flights] is a significant contribution to the cultural landscape. A disquieting, deeply thoughtful cultural critique.”—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“Full of brilliant readings and beautifully written, this mind-altering work of criticism establishes Row as one of the preeminent cultural critics of our age.”—Booklist (starred review)
“Moving outside of white literature’s often isolated and emotionally numb terrain, [Row] discusses how reparative writing can effect reconciliation. [White Flights is] for readers fascinated by race and reparative writing, now and in American history, and the transformative potential of literature to change minds and emphasize our common humanity.”—Library Journal (starred review)