“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.”
This distaste for the clunky machinery of traditional narrative fiction has spread quickly. Some of the most interesting “novels” of the past few years — Teju Cole’s “Open City,” Jenny Offill’s “Dept. of Speculation,” Ben Lerner’s “Leaving the Atocha Station,” not to mention Knausgaard’s epic, “My Struggle” — are barely novels at all. They read more like memoirs, or a series of lightly fictionalized journal entries, recounting the mundane lives and off-kilter ruminations of their first-person narrators, who are either postgraduate students or blocked writers. There’s a bracing smallness to these books — even those of Knausgaard, who’s a miniaturist on a gargantuan scale — and a serene indifference to what has long passed for ambition in the novel. 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.”
Perrotta goes on to say:
"And the thing is, they’re all terrific books — fresh, unpredictable, intellectually stimulating and often quite funny (especially Offill’s and Lerner’s). It’s enough to make even the most committed advocate of conventional fiction wonder if Shields and company are on to something: Maybe the realistic novel has outlived its usefulness. (God knows we’ve all read some boring ones.) Maybe it’s time to wean ourselves off plot and character and scenes and conflict and all the rest, just leave those things to television. Maybe the most we can hope for on the page is a pinpoint focus on the writer in front of us, the adventures of a single consciousness at play.”
I have just started to dabble in an attempt to write little fictional pieces. After reading Perrotta’s article, I thought how silly am I to think I could possibly write fiction. Especially, since I have had zero formal training. I know nothing about conflict, plot or character scenes. I simply enjoy inventing, imagining, and telling stories. I haven’t figured out how to liken a sunset, a running brook or a dark and stormy night to something other than a sunset, running brook or dark and stormy night.
I have no grand illusions, or for that matter, a desire to publish anywhere except my blog.
Ross encourages me to continue with my stories. I have had a few positive comments on my blog. Of course, I wonder if they are like the families and friends of less than talented America Idol contestants who tell their loved ones’ “You can sing, you can really sing!”
I am fascinated by writers. Writers who simply have to write because it is their passion. I admire and am in awe of their talent and abilities. Because I am a reader, always have been, I say, please keep writing.
And then when I am in the shower or lying in bed unable to sleep, my imagination takes over and I find myself in the midst of a story wondering, “what will happen next?” as if someone else has been telling me a story.
I guess that’s why I write, “to find out what happens next”.
By the way Mr. Perrotta gives “A God in Ruins” a good review.
"But then you read a novel like Kate Atkinson’s “A God in Ruins,” a sprawling, unapologetically ambitious saga that tells the story of postwar Britain through the microcosm of a single family, and you remember what a big, old-school novel can do. Atkinson’s book covers almost a century, tracks four generations, and is almost inexhaustibly rich in scenes and characters and incidents. It deploys the whole realist bag of tricks, and none of it feels fake or embarrassing. In fact, it’s a masterly and frequently exhilarating performance by a novelist who seems utterly undaunted by the imposing challenges she’s set for herself.”
How do you feel about fiction writing? Do you agree with Karl Ove Knausgaard that “Fictional writing has no value”?
By the way, I’m pretty sure I know how you will answer. :)