In his otherwise very interesting Bookforum essay on Georges Perec, James Gibbons asserts that
. . .there is also something about Perec's brand of postmodernism that seems inimical to many American writers' attitudes toward their craft. The encyclopedic expansiveness of Pynchon, David Foster Wallace, William Vollmann, et al. has never been harnessed to an especially exacting formal rigor, and the impulse of meticulous description so fundamental to a writer like Perec may seem, to native sensibilities, overly fussy, even effete. Put another, metaphorical way, American writers tend toward an expressive register commensurate with the open spaces and endless distances of our continent; Perec's magnitude is no less great, but his vastness is essentially urban, highly structured, and by necessity constrained, entailing complex negotiations and yielding delight in serendipity, surprise, and incongruity.
Gibbons draws a viable enough distinction between the intricate formalism of Perec's fiction and the "expansiveness" of Pynchon, Wallace, and Vollmann (whose work might be more accurately characterized by what Tom LeClair has called the "art of excess"), but I wonder about the utility of of attributing these differences to national or geographical qualities--"commensurate with the open spaces and endless distances of our continent." (I would also question the extent to which Pynchon in particular lacks "formal rigor"; V seems to me a "highly structured" novel indeed, one that requires multiple readings for its skillfully patterned motifs to become entirely visible.) At best this seems to suggest that American writers are simply energetic primitives, at worst that the likes of Wallace and Vollmann are "manly" writers, while Perec is some sort of pantywaist.
Vollmann was born in Los Angeles, Wallace in upstate New York, Pynchon on Long Island, so it would be hard to argue that they have literally channeled these "open spaces and endless distances" in their fiction. Perhaps Gibbons is only attempting to account for some essential difference between the "postmodernism" of American writers and that of Europeans, or, indeed, between American and European fiction in general. But this difference surely wouldn't be something bred in the bones or absorbed through the soil, but is instead a matter of influence. American writers are more likely to be influenced by other American writers--many of whom have written fiction that does attempt to capture those things that are peculiary "American" about America--while, say, French writers are more likely to have gone to school, so to speak, on their own literary tradition. This isn't so much a question of how culture and environment themselves shape an artist's sensibilities or predilections but of the way in which culture unavoidably points the artist in one direction rather than another. What might American fiction look like if Perec and his fellow Oulipians--including the American Oulipian Harry Mathews--did become more fully available to would-be writers?
But then we Americans inhabit a culture that seems to find "literary" writing in general (much less the "complex negotiations" of a Perec) to be suspiciously "effete." That American postmodernists might seem laggardly in their capacity for game-playing and their delight in "incongruity" when compared to a Georges Perec or a Raymond Queneau would no doubt strike certain no-nonsence American readers and critics as outlandish. Too many American writers disdain "psychological realism" or good old-fashioned storytelling as it is. Thus, except through the admirable efforts of publishers like Godine (publishers of Perec) or Dalkey Archive, we probably shouldn't expect to see books by such unmanly Europeans make much of an incursion on American literary life any time soon.