This first book-length study of Stewart O'Nan's work offers a comprehensive introduction to his writings and carefully examines recurring thematic concerns and stylistic characteristics of his novels. The author of eighteen novels, several works of nonfiction, and two short-story collections, O'Nan received the Pirate's Alley Faulkner Society's Gold Medal for best novel for Snow Angels and the Drew Heinz Prize for In the Walled City. In 1996 Granta magazine named him one of the Twenty Best Young American Novelists.
In Understanding Stewart O'Nan, Heike Paul appraises O'Nan's oeuvre to date, including his popular multigenerational trilogy of novels—Wish You Were Here; Emily, Alone; and Henry, Himself—that received enthusiastic reviews in the New York Times, the Washington Post, Publisher's Weekly, and the Guardian.
Paul argues that O'Nan is not only a writer of popular fiction but also has developed into a major literary voice worthy of canonical status and of having a firm place in school, college, and university curricula. To this end Paul analyzes his use of formulas of long-standing popular American genres, such as the Western and the gothic tale, as he re-invents them in innovative and complex ways creating a style that Paul describes as "everyday gothic." She also offers a critical examination of O'Nan's treatment of American myths and vivid descriptions of struggling middle class settings and individuals who lead precarious lives. Paul believes this first critical study of O'Nan's collected works will be instrumental in building a critical archive and analysis of his oeuvre.