March 15, 2006

Hello Ambivalence, My old Friend

So. Received the Oxford American's fiction issue a few days ago, whereupon Hublet promptly handed it to me and said, "You read it and tell me if there's anything good," and then fled the scene.


See, I have this problem with most of what passes for fiction nowadays--I hate it. Unless, oddly enough, it's genre fiction. I think it's because the folks writing genre fiction, with a few notable exceptions (hellooooo, Anne Rice), are aware that what they're supposed to do is tell a good story, not fight the power, stick it to the man, or change the freaking world with their navel-gazing purple prose of doom.

So when I'm confronted with the "fiction edition" of a magazine, I get this horrible feeling in my gut, as though I'm about to be dragged kicking and screaming through a wasteland of ennui punctuated with meaningless acts of drug abuse, sex, violence, and cussin', perhaps with a sprinkling of "God is dead" and "the abyss is staring back at me" for good measure.

But I have a higher tolerance for southern writing, mainly because the southern tradition of ennui is old and established and doesn't suffer the taint of metropolitan settings. Don't ask me why despair is easier to take in a bucolic setting, it just is. Plus, southern writing has always had a firm sense of the absurd. Manly Pointer stealing Hulga's leg in Good Country People is as hilarious as it is shocking and dark.

So I opened the OA to a random story and started reading. Boobs. Boob art as a metaphor for a failed relationship in--you guessed it--New York City. There was a whiff of trying too hard to be Gabriel Garcia Marquez mixed in with a touch of genuine southern humor, and a line in which the narrator wondered how exactly he and his girlfriend had become these rootless, ennui-filled, boring modern people. Good question. I think the answer is they spent too much time reading modern fiction editions of magazines.

I really hate the fact that I hate what passes for incisive, cutting edge fiction nowadays.

I think I'll blame James Joyce and go stare into the abyss--and then possibly write a self-involved story about genitalia as a metaphor for modern relationships.

I bet it would sell.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at March 15, 2006 04:27 PM

Genitals as metaphor is in Lautreamont _Maldoror_, a depiction of a funeral

``The priest of religions heads the procession, holding in one hand a white flag, the sign of peace, and in the other a golden device depicting the male and female privy parts, as if to indicate that these carnal members are most of the time, all metaphor apart, very dangerous tools in the hands of those employing them''

That's the book to read (Lykiard translation).

Posted by: Ron Hardin at March 15, 2006 08:22 PM

You always know, when an author says "it's good for people to have their preconceptions shaken up," that you're about to read something that would have bored your grandparents.

It'll be written in the present tense, too.

Posted by: PersonFromPorlock at March 16, 2006 07:01 AM

There was a marvelous piece written in the Atlantic a few years ago by B.R. Myers which was later expanded into a short book which made much the same point and argued quite forcefully that genre authors like Stephen King 'disdained' by the intelligentsia were actually far better and more engaging writers than the heroes of the NYT book review. Included among his specific examples were Annie Proulx (exhibiting a bad case of sour grapes in the Guardian recently), Cormac McCarthy, Don DeLillo and the great saint of modern literati: Toni Morrison (who as I once noted, in a list of the greatest 100 books of the 20th century by some publisher group had one book by Faulkner, one book by Steinbeck and no less than six books by Toni Morrison).

The link to the original article is:

Posted by: John Hudock at March 18, 2006 10:06 AM

I bought the book. It's hilarious.

Posted by: Andrea Harris at March 18, 2006 10:08 AM

I should add that while I occasionally read current "serious" authors in the hopes of being positively surprised (which effort was richly rewarded by my recent reading of "Gilead" which I thought was a beautiful book), mostly I turn to the old masters: Dickens, Chesterton, Waugh, Steinbeck, etc... when I want to read non-genre fiction.

Posted by: John Hudock at March 18, 2006 10:12 AM

I read that article in "The Atlantic" after being tipped off to it by BAW fan Brad K. It was insightful and very funny - I especially liked the take on DeLillo's zeal for listing things, ad nauseum.

I've never read anything by Ralph McInerney, but he has an article in the March "First Things" ( about the writing life. One great nugget was his view that writing/storytelling should be (and generally always was) about the audience first, not the author. He argues that if the act of writing is viewed foremost as an act of giving (sure, hopefully with the added bonus of making some moolah), rather than an act of "self-expression", then the chances are better for a lasting, meaningful, and enjoyable piece of artistry.

Posted by: Husband of BAW at March 20, 2006 10:15 AM