Friday, September 25, 2009

WSJ: Grossman Plugs Plot

In the August 29, 2009, edition of The Wall Street Journal, Lev Grossman (author of The Magicians) discusses why plot fell out of favor in literary fiction and how genre writers have begun to marry entertainment with excellent form. Excerpts:

A good story is a dirty secret that we all share. It's what makes guilty pleasures so pleasurable, but it's also what makes them so guilty. A juicy tale reeks of crass commercialism and cheap thrills. We crave such entertainments, but we despise them. Plot makes perverts of us all.

It's not easy to put your finger on what exactly is so disgraceful about our attachment to storyline. Sure, it's something to do with high and low and genres and the canon and such. But what exactly? Part of the problem is that to find the reason you have to dig down a ways, down into the murky history of the novel. There was once a reason for turning away from plot, but that rationale has outlived its usefulness. If there's a key to what the 21st-century novel is going to look like, this is it: the ongoing exoneration and rehabilitation of plot.
Read the whole thing. Grossman's down-and-dirty review of 20th-century literary history and explanation of how it led to the devaluing of action in stories is particularly interesting. "The Modernists felt little obligation to entertain their readers," he writes. "If you're having too much fun, you're doing it wrong." But for all of their highfalutin ideals, the literary lions seem to have forgotten Pascal's famous aphorism, namely that all men seek their own happiness. By denying readers what they wanted, Modernist authors drove them toward the very fiction they despised.

(Picture: CC 2008 by


Ana S. said...

While in a way I can see his point (you know I detest literary snobbery and the ghettoization of genre fiction), I think he rather oversimplified literary history to serve his own purposes. And I can't help but suspect that those purposes might include promoting and aggrandizing his newly released novel.

Loren Eaton said...

Nymeth, so suspicious! Admittedly, though, a few parts near the end were a bit hyperbolic: "The novel is finally waking up from its 100-year carbonite nap. Old hierarchies of taste are collapsing. Genres are hybridizing." Easy there, fella.