Fiction has been getting hammered lately. Not only have fiction reviews been cut back in the New York Times Book Review and other places of note, The Atlantic Monthly (one of the few venues that offer the starving writer a living wage) has eliminated short stories altogether from its monthly pages. Instead of inclusion in the rich stew of politics and social commentary, reviews, and well, life, it's been given its own annual issue. Does the word "ghettoization" comes to mind? (Is it even a word?)
So things are bad. Publisher's are whining about their losses. Surveys are saying people have pretty much stopped reading altogether. And writers are whining that no one's buying our novels or if they are, the advances aren't what they used to be.
Then just when I think it can't get any worse, I open the New York Times Magazine and find that V.S. Naipaul closed the gate on the artform that has served him so well and which he in turn has served. With typical crankiness, he proclaimed that novels are no longer relevent, and he doesn't intend to write them anymore. Didn't Ian McEwan write something similar after 9/11 only to prove himself wrong by producing the strikingly relevent Saturday? For a week or so I planned writing up a column listing the 5 reasons why the two literary masters are wrong and your humble waitress is right (the novel is not only relevent, it's more necessary than ever.) However, as I often do, I got distracted while serving the coffee, and never got around to it.
But what really got to me was when a blogger came out in a post called "Unrelated" and said rather sternly that life was not a novel, and maturity demanded that we stop auditioning for various roles, and live a life that's more like creative non-fiction. Like a memoir maybe? Have you ever read those things? They can be entertaining as hell, but folks, they're one side of the story. And most often it's a highly skewed self-justifying side. Give me an honest novel that respects all of its characters equally any day! Which is my point: just because novelists make things up doesn't mean they're not true. At best, a novel taps into the deepest truths of who we are and what we know. When that becomes irrelevent, then the human race is in some serious trouble.
So much as I love this particular blog, I have to take exception with this post. I think a life that doesn't allow for an occasional change of costume is a stagnant one indeed. And not a very true one.
But don't listen to me. Listen to Will.
"All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players.
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages."
Or as Bob Dylan said:
"If you're not busy being born, you're busy dying."