Saturday, June 30, 2012

literary fiction or...

...extended, boring, author-heavy "poem"?

I haven't read much literary fiction. It's almost like a force-field repulsion keeping me away. I mostly have to rely on excerpts and things gleaned from reviews. For me to pronounce on literary fiction is ridiculous, bordering on stupid. I don't care.

I don't see any valid reasons for not writing a novel the way Dostoevsky did. He told tales, and the narrator was not showing out. The narrator mostly spoke from the background. Also John Steinbeck and Harper Lee -- stories. But not just stories like our plot-drivel best sellers of today. They wrote tales in which life itself participated through the art of their language and within the matrix of their vision.

I get a sense that some modern and most contemporary literary fiction is not really about story-telling. If there is plot and characterization, those are mostly happening in the background. The foreground is occupied by a knowing, "cool," ironic author on self-parade. Opening paragraphs or pages are monologues or descriptive inventories, with the footlights shining on how profound and artistic the writer assumes himself to be.

I suppose this stuff is thematically about some meta-cultural comment. Oh my.

Thomas Mann pushed the envelop a bit. As author, he protruded here and there on the page. But we forgive him, we actually welcome him. Because he was profound and a genius. Our contemporary geniuses are few and far between. Maybe or probably W.G. Sebald. Otherwise, we have some folks who think they are geniuses writing their "important" literary fiction.

Reading synopses of today's literary fiction novels is not a pleasant activity. Even reading about those that contain some kind of plot and with some emphasis on character(s) is a hurtful thing. Banality raised to an assumed level of high art. Uninteresting or contrived situations containing counterfeit relationships shoved down the readers' eyeballs.

But that other kind -- the kind praised in all the big literary reviews -- where asininity is fused with pretentiousness, where the author is being all meta on center-stage...well that just won't do.

Let's say that literary fiction has a valid place and function in the world of books. Okay. All I request is that the truly talented and truly wise indulge in such a thing, someone approaching the level of Kafka. Or if some writers can't stop themselves, at least reviewers should intervene with both barrels, instead of enabling such stuff. Writers not on the level of a Mann or Sebald should probably turn their language skills to the production of potboilers. Those can be fun and are not pompous.

But what do I know? Not a whole hell of a lot.

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