Losing My Religion - The Novel is Dead?
Books, the Universe, and Everything
The essayist and novelist Tom Perrotta reviews Kate Atkinson's recent novel, A God in Ruins (NYT, May 4, 2015), and observes a decline in belief among some writers that the novel can survive late modern skepticism:
In recent years, a number of talented novelists have experienced a sudden and alarming loss of faith in their chosen literary form. David Shields thinks most novels are boring and disconnected from reality. Nicole Krauss is "sick of plot and characters and scenes and climax and resolution." Rachel Cusk has decided that conventional fiction is "fake and embarrassing." Karl Ove Knausgaard goes even further, dismissing the entire enterprise: "Fictional writing has no value."Ms. Atkinson is not one of these apostates from the faith. Neither is Perrotta. Nor am I. One just needs to have a story to tell. The story doesn't even have to be new or original. My Bottomless Bottle of Beer story isn't new. Or original. But it's not a novel, of course, merely a novella . . .
As an undergraduate young man casting about for what to do next, I listened to one of my instructors observe that one really needs a pate full of arrogance to think that anybody would be interested in reading some story or other that we might happen to write. I did not agree. One merely needs to grow up in a storytelling culture. The listeners are already there, always ready and waiting for a narrative performance.
But I put aside storytelling in an earnest effort to learn more of the world first and signed on in this adventure called life by boarding the ship called "History," itself a form of storytelling.
Now an old man advising young men am I, and I say: Don't fear to tell stories. An audience is out there . . . waiting . . .