The End of the 19th Century: A Novel

The End of the 19th Century is the third in a group of four introspective and historically ambitious novels. The first, An American Memory (1988) introduced readers to West Tree, Minnesota, and to a young resident and native of that town by the name of Malcolm Reiner. By novel’s end, Malcolm had married a “strange, grave, elegant girl” named Zoë Handke. Her own family, as bedeviled in its own way as Malcolm’s was in its, became the subject of the second novel, I Am Zoë Handke (1994). The writer Ruth Moose said of that book that it was “Marvelous, marvelous work. If you love literature, writing so wonderful it makes you catch your breath, read Zoë Handke.”

In The End of the 19th Century, Malcolm returns to pick up this history of striving and troubled American families from a time—1853—earlier than before, and to carry it to a moment later than before—to 2010, when everyone else in his family has died, when the farm he grew up on is no longer to be found, and when the town of West Tree itself, previously Malcolm’s guide to history, place, and meaning, has also disappeared without a trace, the entire area where the town had once been “grown up now in tall, sturdy, aromatic prairie grasses that swayed in the hot wind, sometimes forming deep moving waves like those at sea.”

The meaning of it? Readers will have to find out for themselves, though Jane Vandenburgh, author of the novel Failure to Zigzag, said: “The writing here is simply stunning. What this novel chronicles is the complete loss of the American agrarian past and with it all sense of rootedness and connectedness. It is an important, if apocalyptic, work, its writer gifted with genius. Please don’t let it go.”

About Eric Larsen

Professor Emeritus at John Jay College of Criminal Justice (CUNY), Eric Larsen has written and published widely for many years. The Decline and Fall of the American Nation completes a tetralogy of novels that began with An American Memory (1988) and continued through I Am Zoë Handke (1992) and The End of the 19th Century (2012). Larsen is also author of the non-fiction books A Nation Gone Blind: America in an Age of Simplification and Deceit (2006), Homer Whole: A Reading of the Iliad, and The Skull of Yorick: The Emptiness of American Thinking at a Time of Grave Peril—Studies in the Cover-up of 9/11 (2011).