Wednesday, September 2, 2009

On good-novels-don't-have-to-be-hard-debate and eating grass

J. Seliger's blog,  The Story' Story,  points enthusiastically to a recent article by Lev Grossman in the WSJ, which suggests that the 21st-century novel will be shaped by "the ongoing exoneration and rehabilitation of plot."  And not only that, but "the balance of power is swinging from the writer back to the reader, and compromises with the public taste are being struck all over the place."  Predictably, Seliger also has high praise for A Reader's Manifesto, B.R. Myers disdainful critique of postmodern American fiction.  In a  rejoinder to Grossman at Conversational Reading, Andrew Seal  wonders whoever said good books had to be hard - and notes that this ground has already been thoroughly ploughed, not only by Myers, but also by Jonathan Franzen, Ben Marcus, Tom Wolfe , David Foster Wallace and others.

It strikes me that  "compromises with the public taste" don't necessarily enhance the entertainment value of a novel;  a writer like Ian McEwan, to take one example, is at his most mesmerizing in rambling, beautifully written contemplative passages, where nothing much is happening (e.g. the morning drive in Saturday before the action begins). But he can also pander to the public taste with a mean plot; thrilling, page-turner plots that suck you in, but which - if you can suspend your suspension of disbelief for a moment - are actually quite contrived and preposterous.  That's when you throw the book down in disgust (but not until you've seen what happens) and feel cheated, like Larson's cows....

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