Posted by: Fern On channel: WhatGifs.com At: Sun, 12 Aug 2012 23:20:27 +0000 Originally posted by
at Reading Is Educational
The other day an author I'm friends with on Facebook went on a multi-status rant about Gone Girl, the novel by Gillian Flynn. Let me say right up front that I have not read this book, because early on a couple people told me the ending pissed them off, and there are too many books in the world for me to read one that plays games. I followed my author friend's statuses, and she went from OMG this is a wonderful book. The prose is so gorgeous (my paraphrase) to I'm half way through and the character WHAT?! No WAY.
My author friend then upped the rant factor, saying people who read literary fiction must hate themselves if they enjoy being treated like crap by books like Gone Girl .
She went on to say she'd stick with genre fiction, where people behave like people. And my comment on her thread was a big ol' AMEN.
Here's the thing. While I'm squarely in the genre fiction camp, like most people who read - and write - genre, especially romance, I'm an eensy bit apologetic about it. I mean, if anyone took a serious look at the titles on my kindle, I'd blush.
Just a little.
Okay, more than a little.
Why is that? Why does genre get treated like the shabby stepsister? For this - my first Relentless Writers post - I thought I'd take a look at three of the most obvious differences between genre and literary fiction, to see if I can stir up some debate. It's not hard to find good discussions of the differences - Jami Gold did a fine one a few months ago - but because the ideas have been bugging me this week, I thought I'd write about it. The three things I'm going to play with are prose, plot, and philosophy.
It's common knowledge that literary fiction is the place to go for beautiful language. I jumped over to the Oprah's Book Club website to grab this quote from Gone Girl, because I think it's cool...
"I feel myself trying to be charming, and then I realize I'm obviously trying to be charming, and then I try to be even more charming to make up for the fake charm, and then I've basically turned into Liza Minella: I'm dancing in tights and sequins, begging you to love me."
I love the rhythm created by the repeats of charming, and I love the humor injected by the mention of Liza Minelli, tights, and sequins. It's such a great visual. I don't know where this comes in the context of the story, but I can see it's a fantastic illustration of character. Margie Lawson would LOVE this language.
I find the use of fancy language can be off-putting, however. My last serious attempt at reading literary fiction might have been the book C by Tom McCarthy. Publisher's Weekly gave it a starred review, and it got some press when it first came out in 2010. The premise, "WWI..radio operator...prison camp...mission to Cairo...Egyptian tomb", sounded interesting, so I gave it a try.
If I had read this review from the New York Times, I might not have. McCarthy, author of the ingenious 2006 novel “Remainder,” withstands the temptations of emotional plotting and holds out instead for something bigger, deeper, more universal and elemental. “C” is a rigorous inquiry into the meaning of meaning: our need to find it in the world around us and communicate it to one another; our methods for doing so; the hubs and networks and skeins of interaction that result. Gone is the minimalist restraint he employed in “Remainder”; here, he fuses a Pynchonesque revelry in signs and codes with the lush psychedelics of William Burroughs to create an intellectually provocative novel.
All that intellectual provocation was just too much for me. The author's language was denser than the review, and I couldn't find anything to connect with on an emotional level, so I gave up.
The thing is, I find lyrical writing in genre fiction, too. Authors like Alexis Hall, Tiffany Reisz, and Devon Monk write gorgeous stuff. They take me out of my own little head and make me think about the world around me. And they do it in the context of a plot I can comprehend.
It's easy to summarize the differences between genre and literary when it comes to plot. In literary, plot takes second place to process, but in genre, plot IS the story. As Jami Gold says regarding literary fiction,
The point of the story is for the character(s) to understand themselves better. This is achieved through episodic events that force understanding. However, characters aren't forced to internally change or to change their situations.
In genre fiction, the whole point of the exercise it for the characters to face external challenges that require them to grow and change to overcome them. They need to find the skills in themselves to solve the murder or slay the dragon or bring that badass biker dude to heel. Genre fiction generally follows a relatively predictable three-act structure, while in literary, they can meander along from episode to episode until the story is over. There's no expectation that the character has anything to overcome, because really, there's nothing to overcome, because that's how life is.
And that, Virginia, is my real bitch with literary fiction. I cannot deal with a story that tries to sell me on life sucks and then you die. If I want real world, pointless heartache, I'll go to work or watch the evening news. Maybe I'm a sucker at heart, but I firmly believe that people can overcome the challenges they face, and that they can change and grow.
That's me. The little engine that could.
I think I can. I think I can. I think...
My real life cup may not be half full, but my characters' damn well better be. Things aren't absolute, however. I've found pessimistic genre fiction, books I had to stack on the DNF file. Charlie Huston's Joe Pitt vampire novels are dark and violent, and I loved the first couple books in the series, but the later books got so grim I finally I had to give up. Maybe Joe eventually redeems himself, but I didn't hang around long enough to see it.
I've also read books that are considered literary fiction that were filled with joyful optimism. Mink River by Brian Doyle is a wonderful book, fun and beautiful and full of real life. The plot meanders a bit, but the language more than makes up for it. Finding just one quote from the novel to share with you here was tough, but this one's a favorite...
Rained gently last night, just enough to wash the town clean, and then today a clean crisp fat spring day, the air redolent, the kind of green minty succulent air you'd bottle if you could and snort greedily on bleak, wet January evenings when the streetlights hzzzt on at four in the afternoon and all existence seems hopeless and sad.
Maybe I don't hate myself enough to read literary.
Thanks for reading along,
So what about you? Do you prefer genre or literary, or are you a swinger?
Also...I'll throw in a $5 gift card (Amazon, B&N, ARe, whichever) to one lucky winner if you follow this blog by 1/16/15 and leave me a comment to tell me you did.