Friday, January 9, 2009

why I hate literary fiction

I've been brooding over this topic for over a week now, after a very disappointing experience with the book Blindness, by Jose Saramago. I was really excited about it; the back cover promised an innovative, unique story. However, when I began to read, I found several things missing. Like punctuation; there was nothing beyond periods and commas. I don't even remember seeing a question mark. Conversations between characters took place in the same sentence, the only indication of a change in speaker the capitalization of that speaker's dialogue. I only got about halfway through the book, but essentially it was like reading one long run-on sentence.
There were also no character names. People were referred to as the doctor, the doctor's wife, the taxi driver, the thief, the girl in the dark glasses, the boy with a squint.
This is not the first time this has happened to me. I'm an avid reader, so I pick up pretty much any book that gets buzz. And I'm often disappointed to find either a wonderful story, hidden in the debris of an 'innovative' writing technique, or a bad story so completely camouflaged by flowery, distracting writing that the reader doesn't even realize how bad the story is until the end, when all the characters have died horribly, and you're left unfulfilled and mildly nauseated.
For me, you don't need to mess with the language to make a book beautiful. The story should do that. There are good writers and there are great writers, but the purpose of the writing shouldn't be to exist for its own sake. It's there to draw you in, to make you forget you're reading and make you believe, instead, that you've just fallen into a dream. It's kind of like the Oscars; there's a reason that awards like Best Art Direction and Best Costume Design are relatively minor awards. You don't make a movie about the background or the clothes; those things are just there to make you believe that what you're seeing is real.
Now, please understand, there are books which are classified as literary fiction which I've actually enjoyed. But even experts in the genre admit that classifying it is tricky. But overall, I think that fiction should be about the beauty of the house you've built, not all the cool things you can do with the hammer.

Jacquelyn Sylvan
Author, Surviving Serendipity

1 comment:

Michael Edelson said...

This may be a little late, but I just stumbled on your blog. I agree completely. I tried reading The Road, I couldn't get past the first few pages.

As far as fiction goes, I think that if you notice the writing, the writer has failed.