LITERATURE: A Mess of Thoughts

As sometimes happens, what I’m currently thinking about or reading ties in peripherally with other topics that come up currently in the blogging community.

My pondering of McCarthy’s characters and plots and his different manner in handling them in No Country for Old Men has been bordering on his stepping out of form and into the more typical crime adventure story.  On Miss Snark’s weblog, there is a question of what constitutes literary fiction–as if that question can be easily answered–and it gets bogged down as a snobbish decision to compartmentalize and persecute the genre writers.  In a post titled "Miss Snark is not informed on this," a reader writes:

"I’ve noticed that the speculative fiction winning the big awards these days seem to be thinly disguised literary pieces.  I keep reading stories about silent characters who softly reflect on their lives as they sip tea. At some point, something mildly otherworldly happens to qualify the story as sf or fantasy. Then it ends. But the stories I love to read (and write) have Action! Suspense! Adventure! They’re heaped in either technology or magic but anchored with realistic and complex characters. Not pulp by any means, but far more exciting than "literary" work.

Please tell me, O High Priestess of Words, what is the state of today’s speculative fiction? Will high action win out in the end? Or must I learn to write riveting prose about contemplating the wild stalks growing on the edge of a rippling lake if I’m ever to be published?"

In the comments, the only reference to an attempt at definition of "literary fiction" points to a spoof (though just now I added my own link).  The snobbishness of some to classify fiction as literary seems to justifiably irritate the genre writers and readers enough to raise some hackles without really understanding that it’s not so much genre related (nor carries as a requirement any self-contemplation of rippling lakes while sipping tea) as how the novel is handled and told; genre is often secondary to the elements of story.  H.G. Wells writes sci fi; but he’s definitely lit fic too.

Meanwhile, here I am reading one of my favorite authors, Cormac McCarthy, and wondering how he seems to have wandered from his style.  I doubt that No Country for Old Men will ever be deemed literary fiction; whereas there is no doubt that Blood Meridian and Suttree, as well as the Border Trilogy, have easily established themselves as such. 

For me, what I consider as literary is something that is more open to interpretation, has the Barthes writerly vs. readerly aspect to it, includes more setting and characterization perhaps, is loaded with metaphor and layering–not number of plots-layering, but layers of depth in meaning.  I’m very into lit fic, and yet horror and true crime have always held a special place in my heart. People will read what they like to read and regardless of what that is, there’s no reason whatsover to feel bad and on the defensive–nor particularly snobbish–about it.

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