Tuesday, March 21, 2017


The State of American Fiction

Sam Sacks has an article on fiction in The New Republic.

He writes of Wallace and Chabon, Eggers, Lethem and Whitehead as writers creating a style devoted to entertaining. Chabon has said, “I read for entertainment, and I write to entertain. Period. Oh, I could decoct a brew of other, more impressive motivations and explanations.… But in the end—here’s my point—it would still all boil down to entertainment, and its suave henchman, pleasure.” So he seeks out genre styles--he wrote the movie "John Carter"--and writes with the reader, not the critic or the academic, in mind.

That is dangerous ground, as Sacks' review shows.

We average readers are simply not exclusive enough a club. Or high-minded enough. And Mr. Sacks sees great influence and power --rather than mundane entertainment and pleasure--that seemingly fiction and its creators can wield. Apparently in his mind, art can teach. But that requires orders, hierarchies and judgments. And those elements are found only in the fantastics of Wallace, Chabon et al.

This is Sacks' final paragraph:
"But the sense of imminent peril that has already begun to define the Trump era is different in kind and magnitude than the discontents of the Nineties. Literature that flees toward more welcoming, invented worlds runs the risk of rendering itself unserious at the moment when seriousness is most called for. There is a great deal of beauty and inspiration to be found in these recent novels of these writers, but they take for granted a vision of the past that no longer adequately accounts for the present. To better come to grips with our moment, however ugly or uncomfortable it may be, we need the opposite of escapist art: We need works that engage, fully and deeply, with the challenges of the here and now."

I wish he had explained more of Trump's era and its threatening peril; I have no idea at all what these politicians are doing. Except for one thing. The only detritus of the "Trump Era" so far is the revelation of how much of our respect of politics depends upon deception and how empty and hopeless it appears when practiced by those who can not--or perhaps will not--deceive with elan, confidence and fraudulent higher purpose.

Indeed, what every politician seems to need is a good fiction writer.

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