Southern Writers II

Here’s the rest of my article from Southern Writers Magazine:

A few years ago, Arthur Krystal wrote a piece for The New Yorker that set off a minor firestorm in book circles.  Its premise was that, historically, “there was little ambiguity between literary fiction and genre fiction:  one was good for you, one simply tasted good,” and, despite protests from the genre community, that was still the case.  He leavened his opinion with a reflexive nod to the usual pantheon of genre authors (Leonard, Raymond Chandler, P.D. James), but only in a back-handed way (Don’t mix your metaphors!  Avoid exclamation marks), insisting that “[n]othing bogs down a pulpy tale faster than real-life feelings about real life.”

Well.  The response was swift and Krystal back-pedaled, sort of (Another preposition!?).  In a New Yorker piece written five months later, he acknowledged “’a vast blurry middle ground in between genre fiction and literary fiction . . . [where] books don’t so much transcend genres as simply collapse them.”  Nevertheless, he maintained his belief in the superiority of literary fiction:

“Writers who want to understand why the heart has reasons that reason cannot know are not going to write horror tales or police procedurals . . . [M]ake no mistake:  good commercial fiction is inferior to good literary fiction in the same way that Santa Claus is inferior to Wotan.  One brings us fun or frightening gifts, the other requires – and repays – observance.”

I’m for the “blurry middle ground.”  I’ve published five novels.  People die in all of them, and the search for a killer is always a story.  But – there are other stories.  And it doesn’t have to be art or craft – it can be both.  I, too, want to know, among other things, “why the heart has reasons that reason cannot know,” and I try to create settings, characters and plots that enable my readers to know as well.  James Bond is genre – George Smiley is not.

Sometimes I even “surrender to the unknown” – I usually don’t know how a book will end until it ends.   Three different critics have said that my work “twists genres,” or “crosses genres” or “defies genre conventions.”  You can have it both ways.


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