Literarily Speaking

Literary fiction is a masturbatory exercise.

Do I have your attention?

I spent four years in college studying English and creative writing, and obviously a large part of that involved reading and analyzing books. It was great. I absolutely loved sitting around in a circle discussing The Virgin Suicides or Jesus’ Son. But I had to read a lot of books over the course of my academic career, and some of them were just … well … unnecessary.

Now don’t get me wrong, I enjoy challenging literature. But quite frankly, much of what is considered literary fiction just baffles me. Because it seems as though the wilder and more nonsensical a writer is, the more their work is considered “genius”.

Just because you cannot understand something, does not mean it is brilliant. It might just mean that it is shit.

Obviously when someone really has something to say, it’s fascinating. By all means, make your philosophical point. Question life, the universe, and everything. Experiment with style and prose. But why on EARTH do you have to get so pompous about it?

I always get so frustrated when I’m reading a book and it feels like the author is doing something just because they can – it adds nothing to the story, it’s just there. When suddenly a character is so obviously acting as a mouthpiece for the writer. Or when I sit down to read a short story, and the extent of it is a man making and eating a sandwich in the middle of the night.

Oh, the symbolism. And the sad thing is that I could probably write an entire paper justifying the story of a man eating a sandwich as some sort of metaphor for the state of international politics. But I would just be making it up. I would be completely making it up, and people would probably say it was brilliant how I realized that the bologna was actually symbolic of foreign trade.

 It’s an effing sandwich.

We spend heaps of time analyzing literary fiction because of the deep meaning behind it. But really, isn’t the joke on us? I once wrote a story that involved a red umbrella, and by the time my writing class was done with it, the umbrella symbolized some sort of all-encompassing love to keep someone safe from the horrors of war.

I picked red because I like red.

And then suddenly there is meaning when there used to be none, and on the one hand that’s sort of cool, but on the other hand it’s ridiculous. I could literally write a story in which a man walks down a street. The end. And I bet you could turn that into a ten-page paper, just bullshitting your way through and assigning meaning to every word.

Now, it’s always interesting to write a paper like that, because you usually figure more out about yourself than about the story based on what you think it all means. But, I digress.

I also resent the sort of lack of respect among the literary community for genre fiction. A professor of mine once said that if you don’t leave your characters more fucked up than when you found them, it’s not good writing. Happy endings are so gauche. I mean really, dahling. But I fail to see why having a plot that turns out well is somehow shallow. It’s a lot easier to write a tragic ending than a happy one. It’s a lot easier to say that everything is meaningless than to fight through and find something that has meaning. It’s easier to wallow than to fight. You are not smarter or wiser or better than anyone else simply because you’ve decided life is pointless.  Believing in a happy ending does not make you a fool, it makes you a fighter – and doesn’t the world need some of that now and then? Don’t we need happy endings to remind us that they exist? At least, that’s how I see things.

Now then, in the ultimate irony … wasn’t this whole post just a masturbatory exercise?  

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