The Great American Novel

Monday an editorial by Diana E. Sheets appeared in my newspaper entitled “The demise of the great American novel.” The premise of the piece is that the great American novel in the tradition of For Whom the Bell Tolls or Absalom, Absalom! is dead.

Why? As a starter, according to Sheets, the top five trade publishers in the US are subsidiaries of conglomerates, most of which are foreign. Consequently, publishing has become a global enterprise and profit rules all.

Sheets goes on to say, “Innovative novels presenting the American story have all but died. They have been replaced almost entirely with feminized ‘virtue’ or sanctimonious multiculturalism devoid of truth or excellence. As a consequence, literary fiction has become entirely derivative and resistant to telling our story. Given this ‘literary tofu’ that is bloodless and devoid of realism, the reader loses interest. Consequently, publishers have substituted a steady diet of sensationalized ‘pulp’ where once great fiction held sway.”

So it’s not just Christian fiction that is struggling to be relevant.

The scary thing, to me anyway, is connected with what I discussed yesterday. Christian fiction seems stuck in copycat mode, but what we are copying is “pulp.” And we seem to do so gleefully, pounding our chests or patting ourselves on the back, pleased with the strides we have made.

Don’t get me wrong. Christian fiction has undergone remarkable growth, and not just in numbers of authors or books sold. The quality of writing has matured, and the types of stories have expanded. And continues to do so.

But who among us is aspiring to write the Great American Novel?

I’m just wondering. Have we set our sights too low, satisfied with imitation pulp?

And at this point I have to check myself, because I don’t want to say what I’m not saying. I know there is a place for stories that are fun and little more. When all around us we see a sinful, dying world, it is more than tempting to seek a reprieve, an escape.

After all, the American story used to be one of hope and help and hard work mixed with struggle and tragedy. And what is it now, beyond greed and selfishness and despair?

OK, I’m sounding more cynical than I feel, truly. But I’m saying, I understand the temptation to escape the uncontrollable dirtiness of our world.

But maybe, instead of escaping, we should face it head on, really look at this world from a Christian worldview, and write that story.

By the way, I don’t want to imply I think all Christian fiction should be contemporary. Far from it. As a fantasy writer, I tend to believe fantasy is the best vehicle for conveying truth about our world, about God, about … you name it.

These musings aren’t about genre but about aspirations, and first and foremost, my own. Perhaps we should be a little less content with what we’ve accomplished and a little more ambitious in our aims. Perhaps.

Published in: on February 13, 2008 at 11:40 am  Comments (10)  
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