But it goes beyond that. If you can’t find a great American novel, it’s because THE NOVEL IS DEAD–and because The New Yorker controls publishing with its 20-under-40 list.
Or something like that.
Lee Siegel, author of a particularly querulous article on publishing in the June 22 edition of the New York Observer, is ready to put The New Yorker on his hit list. Apparently The New Yorker 20-under-40 writers, whom I’m sorry to say I haven’t read yet, are producing formulaic pap (though I’m not, indeed, sure Siegel has read them) and dominate the literary scene.
I do know what he’s getting at. The New Yorker writers have an advantage. It’s the most prestigious, influential magazine, and the source of at least half of the stories anthologized every year in The Best American Short Stories and The O. Henry Prize Stories. That means if you subscribe to The New Yorker, it’s hardly necessary to buy the yearly anthologies.
And you get a warped view of contemporary fiction.
Somebody should really do something about that.
Well, I’m not a big New Yorker fiction reader. Dare I confess this? In the ’80s I loved the stories of Raymond Carver, Ann Beattie, Bobbie Ann Mason, Deborah Eisenberg, and Larry Woiwode. Then the style changed, or more likely the editorial slant changed with the change of editors, my writers were dropped, and I lost interest. Although I still read anything by Jonathan Lethem or Alice Munro, I skip most of the short fiction because it somehow doesn’t speak to me anymore.
This may mean I’m too old-hippieish, or perhaps too middle-class, to give a damn about the privileged Harvard grads and wealthy immigrants who write and people the stories in America’s premier journal.
So even though I think Siegel’s article is ridiculous, he and I might share a similar opinion of the drawbacks of New Yorker fiction.
But here’s where Siegel and I part company. And you knew this was coming, didn’t you? All the great American writers Siegel admired are dead: Hemingway, Faulkner, Fitzgerald, Bellow, Updike, Mailer, Cheever, & Malamud.
And, whoops, suddenly he remembers that he must mention a woman writer, so he hastily adds that Mary McCarthy wrote some books and is dead, too. Oh, and then he gets really confused and mentions that Harper Lee wrote a book .
I am indignant. He can’t name any of the remarkable American women writers of the last century, Flannery O’Connor, Caroline Gordon, Dawn Powell, Dorothy Parker, Zora Neale Hurston, & Jean Stafford. And he doesn’t pay tribute to the living greats like Joyce Carol Oates, Louise Erdrich, Jamaica Kincaid, and Mary Gordon.
He seems to have gone completely berserk by the end of the article:
“For about a million reasons, fiction has now become a museum-piece genre most of whose practitioners are more like cripplingly self-conscious curators or theoreticians than writers. For better or for worse, the greatest storytellers of our time are the nonfiction writers.”
Oh dear. I’m going to have to go back to the 20-under-40 list.
And I’m going to try to blog about one good new book a week. Fiction, of course.