Monday, May 11, 2015

Losing My Religion - The Novel is Dead?

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 . . .

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At 5:09 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Jeff--Hmm. Well, further to the point of my recent comments to you via private email, all I can say here is these folks need to get on down to their local bookstore and buy a copy of Marilynne Robinson's "Lila". I would think that would do the trick. CPH

At 8:03 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Should I post those emails? Proof that you're a softie?

Jeffery Hodges

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At 3:04 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Boo hoo, no, please, not that! (I'll just reiterate that, it spoke to moi, that is for sure--ha)

At 4:23 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I'll take that as an iteration and wait for a reiteration . . . kind of like that penultimate thing people do before the ultimate.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 3:15 PM, Blogger King Baeksu said...

"There’s no plot and barely any action, very few characters, no shifting points of view or tricky chronologies, no attempt to recreate a distant era or illuminate the inner workings of a particular society at a particular moment in time. There’s just the writer, eating his omelet, putting her child to bed."

In other words, they're glorified blogs.

At 3:56 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Perrotta likes them:

"And the thing is, they're all terrific books - fresh, unpredictable, intellectually stimulating and often quite funny."

But maybe he likes glorified blogs.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 4:25 PM, Blogger King Baeksu said...

"But maybe he likes glorified blogs."

Of course he likes them. The New York Times wouldn't pay him to review actual blogs.

At 4:40 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Plus, the NYT has its own blog to comment on . . .

Jeffery Hodges

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At 5:06 PM, Blogger King Baeksu said...

"Plus, the NYT has its own blog to comment on..."

Which brings us back to Karl Ove Knausgaard's observation that "Fictional writing has no value." To be sure, what need is there for fictional representations of reality if reality itself is today fictional? Thus the role of the traditional novel has become obsolete, or at most is inverted in a grasping attempt to maintain a modicum of cultural relevance: The best that it can hope to achieve in this day and age is to gather up and present fragments of the nonfictional, and thereby satisfy our collective nostalgia for lost reality. Reality hunger, indeed.

At 7:26 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Scott, when we met for lunch a couple of years ago, you said you were working on a novel . . . I think. What became of that?

Jeffery Hodges

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At 11:17 PM, Blogger King Baeksu said...

Good things come to those who wait.

At 7:19 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

"They also serve who only stand and waite."

Jeffery Hodges

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At 12:15 AM, Blogger King Baeksu said...

No money, no honey, Mr. Funny.

At 6:00 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Does that imply it's published - whatever 'it' is?

Jeffery Hodges

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