Tuesday, December 2, 2008

The social novel

I don't feel fully prepared to discuss this intelligently yet--just making notes. I'm starting to think of my second book in terms of the "social novel." James Wood has a lot of scorn for recent attempts at that and seems to reject the possibilities of the category entirely. (I assume I must be misinterpreting him--surely he doesn't reject Dickens' work as a legitimate artistic endeavor.)

Particularly, he beats up on recent novelists including Zadie Smith, Don DeLillo and Jonathan Franzen, identifying a genre of contemporary literary fiction that he labels "hysterical realism." I agree with many of the criticisms of each book, even the ones I admire like White Teeth and The Corrections. But, like I say, it feels like he is rejecting the possibilities of their endeavors at social novels entirely. Meanwhile, when I think about what is interesting in contemporary fiction that I would like to explore, I keep coming back to these same books.

So, very roughly, at this very early stage of my thinking, I'm imagining a work that deals with the inherent tensions of a social novel--timeliness vs. timelessness; characters that are illustrations of social phenomena vs. characters that are fully realized individuals. Are both possible? Desirable?

Something to ponder . . . what about On The Road? Isn't it both a document of its time and timeless? Isn't it on track to pass the hundred-year test?

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