This book is O'Rourke's first volume of nonfiction since his 1972 The Harrisburg 7 and the New Catholic Left, which Garry Wills hailed as "a clinical x-ray of our society's condition. " That book prompted Herbert Mitgang to name O'Rourke "one of the finest writers of his generation. " Signs of the Literary Times provides new evidence for that assessment. It brings together O'Rourke's unique mixture of literary, political, and cultural criticism published periodically during the last twenty-two years. The collection ranges from autobiographical essays describing his generation's literary evolution, to articles on free speech issues, such as nude dancing and the Bush-era NEA controversies, as well as book reviews that provide a fresh and largely uncharted critical map of the period. O'Rourke is not only interested in genre bending and expansion, but in persevering during this age of academic specialization as, in his phrase, "a person of letters. "
In the two decades between his first work of nonfiction and this volume, O'Rourke has published three highly acclaimed novels, The Meekness of Isaac (1974), Idle Hands (1981), and Criminal Tendencies (1987). Of the last, The Virginia Quarterly Review wrote, "Of all the novelists paraded in recent years by publishers as natural successors to Graham Greene, this one comes the closest. A thoroughly entertaining literary event. "
Signs of the Literary Times is not so much a compendium of diverse pieces on various subjects, as it is a cogent and continuing x-ray of our society's condition.
William O'Rourke has taught at Rutgers University, Mount Holyoke College, and is currently an Associate Professor of English at the University of Notre Dame.
"Though unabashedly literary, O'Rourke's primary concerns—freedom, war, work, and religion—are intensely American. O'Rourke earns the respect of his readers through his superb phrasing, his rigorous thinking and his consistently sound values. As a general reader I trust what he has to tell me because his writing is so gracefully persuasive. If O'Rourke were a lawyer, I'd want him to represent me in court; if he were a carpenter, I'd want him to build my house. " — David Huddle, University of Vermont
"Signs of the Literary Times is a fascinating account of working with literature by one of America's more interesting, responsible, and innovative writers. "—Jerome Klinkowitz, University of Northern Iowa.