Among the reading public, it’s become fashionable to say "I no longer read fiction," as none other than Philip Roth did last year in the Financial Times. Yet since when has this become a rallying cry of disgruntled writers? Writers, mind you, not readers. Suddenly, writers are saying, "I don't read fiction, either." And the fiction police are waiting in the stacks (of fiction) with their billy-clubs to knock the offenders--or should that be, the offended?--in the kneecaps.
You usually expect this complaint from writers of non-fiction.
This attitude might spring from the epiphenomenon of anonymous comment logs on every piece about so-called dwindling returns of fiction. Maybe the backlash comes from the offended being offended by all those who are writing novels, because it seems everyone is, these days; everyone is also writing a memoir about their salad--or fast food--days, writing it of course after they've learned so much in trying to write their novels after pursuing their MFAs. So, if everyone hates fiction so much, why are they all working on a novel?
With another announcement of the death of the novel, the success of e-readers and the proliferation of self-publishing, comes, remarkably, more novels to consider, sure, sometimes possibly of lesser quality, and thus more to complain about. But to me, the death of the novel seems closer to the brink when everyone is reading--and praising--the latest Krispy Kreme writers without a dissenting word among them. (Sweden, are you reading? Stieg Larsson? Begs the question of how a member of a certain academy had the gall to call out America’s literary output). But is this any different than any other time? If all of the dozens of novels published in the last year sucked, there'd be no hope, sure. But no doubt more great novels await being written by un-tested novelists who also happen to have memoirs stashed away they are thinking about dusting off.
I too, regularly burn my candle at the altar for fiction, until I find a novel that blind-sides and alters my outlook forever after. Because isn’t that the beauty of a novel, how it can change your life? To me, the novel never ceased being the main game.
I find it hard to believe that Roth would get nothing from A Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, Skippy Dies, or The Flame Alphabet. It seems that these days, readers of fiction are almost always just a step away from giving up on fiction. But for someone who writes it? To make a blanket pronouncement implying all fiction has become ceaselessly lame, has to make you wonder if such an attitude--from one who realizes he might have to relinquish his throne--might actually be indicative of a bounty.