Saturday, August 13, 2016

The so-called "serious fiction" bias of the seventies

Anne on writing:

When I was coming of age in the seventies, the "formula" for "serious fiction" was fixed: serious fiction had to be about average, ordinary or typical Americans of middle class background who lived predictable lives, and achieved nothing of any consequence in the novel except a small epiphany or personal psychological triumph in a world in which there were no heroes, no geniuses, no self-made movie stars, or self-made millionaires, or "greatness" of any kind.

Anything other than stories of ordinary people were considered "fantasy," or science fiction, or perhaps "romance," and decidedly of lesser value. Such genre fiction could not hope to be "mainstream." It was destined for the paperback realm only.

And those bestselling authors who wrote about the rich and famous were considered entertainers and looked down upon -- Philip Roth, Saul Bellow, John Updike, these were among the greats of "serious fiction." And they were indeed great.

But for aspiring writers like me, there was no place in such a rigid framework. For me, my fantasies were serious. I looked back for inspiration not to Henry James or Jane Austen, but to the Bronte sisters, Melville, Poe, Hawthorne, Kafka.

Since that time, genre fiction and fiction of all kinds has gone "mainstream." It's a much more interesting literary landscape today. You could say there are no rules now. But the bias is still there in favor of the "serious" novel of uneventful middle class life in which characters come to terms in small ways with "lives of quiet of desperation."

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