It’s odd, writing a post-script and having it appear above the entry it follows. But, such is blogging, I suppose.
What I want to say is this, in light of my rundown of recently read novels: My students are bright, and almost daily come up with some difficult-to-answer questions about fiction reading and writing. Most of the time, I can hang, and come up with some smart stuff to say back to them. There is one thing, however, which was been brought up recently I’d like to address. Most of my students, who are nineteen-, twenty-, twenty-one-year-old wannabe writers, are a little put-off by the bleakness of contemporary fiction. The overall sensibility of the writers we read, it seems, is not what they expect. Now, the books I discussed below, which are not all that different from the kind of stuff I may teach, deal with incest, torture, rape, abortion/suicide, and kidnapping/child molestation, just to name a few topics. So, I can kind of see my students’ point. And my answer for why contemporary fiction works that way is usually something along the lines of: fiction generally attempts to look at the way we live our lives, and what it means to be human, and in doing so must address some of the ugly, disturbing truths about how we live. Also, as Burroway points out in Writing Fiction, only trouble is interesting, and however “depressing” the stories may be, they’re interesting for all of the trouble the characters are in.
My students are generally a little appeased by this, but I’m not so sure I am. I know no one is reading this thing, but in the event you come across it and have something to say: Why is so much contemporary fiction “depressing” (or, rather, why does it deal with events that could be labeled sad/upsetting/whatever)? Are my students wrong to expect heroes in their short stories and novels (and by heroes, I don’t mean protagonists, even sympathetic protagonists, I mean literal heroes)? Is the subject matter of most serious, literary fiction what keeps the general population from wanting to read it?
I’d love to hear what you have to say.