There's a piece by Lev Grossman over at the Wall Street Journal, which is ostensibly about how Plots and Genre Concerns are being made respectable in the Novel once again.
Yes, I'm using the Init Caps for Shorthand Sarcasm. Cue the sound of the back of your head hitting the chair as you nod off.
Grossman's piece is shockingly dated in its outlook. It's a literary version of one of those hopeless "rock criticism" essays about What Punk Is. Lester Bangs himself took a few pages back in 1981 (Carburetor Dung, pp. 337-338 to be exact) to torpedo that already-sinking PT boat. The people who really give a damn about such things, he argued — via a hilarious extended metaphor — are too busy being punk in the first place to care about its genealogy. Trying to hammer it into a shape limited by your own critical vision is just dippy.
Actually, Grossman's essay is not just dated, but profoundly, proudly ignorant of how fiction works as a whole. The idea that there is some kind of literary shooting war for readers between the brave, wondrous Don DeLillos and David Foster Wallaces of the world, and those evil writers of shudder Genre Fiction gasp ... it's idiotic, plain and simple. Most of the people in either camp, as readers or writers, don't care about what's happening on the other side of their particular Berlin Wall. They've got books to write and read, dammit, and each of them has their own reasons for doing so. Janet Evanovitch is in no danger of losing fans to Robert Bolaño (or vice versa, for that matter). If anything, I'm betting this divide is going to get all the deeper over time.
The whole foofaraw he coughs up about plot going MIA and then miraculously coming out of its "carbonite nap" (his words; gee, where in the universe did he cop that particular metaphor from? the irony is unending) is just as dumb. Most fiction is plotted to some degree; the truly plotless, free-floating works of any repute out there tend not to retain much readership or get filed under a different rubric. (Is Maldoror a novel, a "prose poem", a hallucination? Does the label even matter here?)
I have a theory.
I think what really happened is that suddenly there's a crop of books out there that Grossman doesn't feel quite so bad about being caught with in public. If that was the case, I would have had more respect for the man if he'd just copped to it (as per Chuck Klosterman and his love of Road House) instead of trying to disguise the whole thing with this pesudo-critical weighing-in.
Someone else also weighed in nicely:
Let us banish the idea that it's possible to enjoy a book for the wrong reason.
Let us also banish the worry that we will be accused of enjoying books for the wrong reasons.
Let us believe each other when we say we liked a particular book, even if it was Black Body by H. C. Turk.
Do that, and I can guarantee we'll have some interesting conversations.
Yeah. Me too.
New York City
Other Lives Of The Mind