Sunday, September 19, 2010

"The Great American Novel"

Today in the Chicago Tribune, Mary Schmich writes this about Jonathan Franzen's new book, Freedom:
"We live now in an age of thrillers, romances, and sci-fi. A novel that comes without a murder, a mystery, a vampire or sexy romance is likely to take the shortcut to the remainder table. As a result, few writers attempt the Great American Novel. The prospect that one might finally have arrived, to reflect back to us the details and deep truths about the moment we live in, is exciting."

I have no delusions that I will ever write the Great American Novel. I leave that up to the Jonathan Franzens of the world. But I do write realistic fiction for tweens. Coming-of-age stories. Books that mine the extraordinary in the ordinary. And lately I've wondered if that is enough. It's harder than ever for a novel to break out unless it's a fantasy or a dystopian or a very high concept.

But of course, everything runs in cycles. Could Freedom be the book that helps turn the tide back to realistic fiction? Aren't kids today just as eager to find themselves in a book as I was when I was growing up? Yes, there's a place for wizards and zombies and even vampires, but I don't think we'll ever stop needing real situations and real characters who make us laugh and cry and see the world and ourselves in a new light.


Lisa Jenn Bigelow said...

I feel the same way sometimes. Okay, a lot. I just don't think I have it in me-- at this point in my life, anyway -- to write a high-concept or commercial book. Which can be discouraging since that's the direction publishing and big bookstores seem to be tending, always looking for blockbusters.

But then I read a big, fat Kirkus Reviews or visit an independent bookstore and see that there really is more variety out there than Borders and Barnes & Noble would have us believe -- much of it "extraordinary in the ordinary" fiction. I'm glad it's still being published, but it's a shame it so invisible outside the school and library market.

Brenda Ferber said...

Borders and B&N are like the popular kids at school... so loud and attention grabbing that it's easy to forget there are other points of view!
I guess we have to keep writing what we write. Right?

Anonymous said...

They are all Great,if THEY are good.
Interesting post, Bravo.