The Nuclear Age concludes with an embrace of conventionality that is seemingly at odds with many of O’Brien’s writerly instincts. For Charles Johnson, whose similar instincts will ultimately lead to the fluidity of form and irreverence for historical fact that characterizes the later O’Brien as well as DeLillo and Auster, such an embrace is complicated still further by his status as an African American novelist. He writes from a position somewhat off-center and yet perhaps not far enough from center. To a large extent women writers, regardless of ethnicity, seem largely unaffected by the exhaustion that leads to self-referentiality, to play, perhaps because their tradition remains undernourished, not over-nourished; there is no shortage of tales still to tell, narratives to relate. The modern female novel, whether by Anne Tyler or Alice Walker, can still flourish in an atmosphere in which the precepts of Realism remain intact, as Joanne S.Frye’s characterization suggests: “we use narrative to assess cause and effect in a pattern of significance, to relate ourselves to a sense of purpose, to claim a shared reality with other people, and to identify a specificity and continuity of self through memory.”1 But Johnson seems to have inherited the burdensome awareness of the male novelist, and despite the strong social purpose inherent in the voice of his first novel, he must eventually adapt the same innovative methods of our other three novelists to reapproximate this sense of purpose, community, and memory. The racial question makes it still more difficult to answer the writer’s call, to accept the writer’s voice.