Kevin Brennan Writes About What It's Like
I’ve just made my annual skim through the New York Times list of 100 notable books. Same as it ever was.
In the spirit of The Disappointed Housewife, I always hope to find something new and paradigm-shifting, but alas. None of the capsule summaries mentions anything about ground-breaking innovations in storytelling, or even attempts at innovations in storytelling. Everybody’s playing it pretty straight, it seems.
One striking thing I noticed is that, by my count, twenty-one of the fifty fiction/poetry books are set in exotic locations or foreign countries. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. It just leads me to think that the publishing business thinks that readers see “something different” as “something foreign.” In other words, they create the illusion of innovation, or at least the excitement of something different, by featuring works set in unfamiliar places. At least two of the books are set in Greek islands. Great Britain, Rome, Turkey, Israel, Kenya, Japan, Korea. And often the writer isn’t from those places. Often it’s an American writer maybe trying to game the system.
A couple of the books sound interesting in terms of their imaginative conceits. One is Louise Erdrich’s Future Home of the Living God. Another is called The Power, about women taking control of society when they acquire the ability to shoot some weird electrical wave from their bodies or something. Count me in! At least these ideas strike me as fresh, and we don’t have to sit through more luminous description of Greek isles.
Of the majority of the other titles on the list, I can’t say they’re not worthy, but I’m certainly not jazzed to read them. They take us into the usual territories, they’re “compelling” and “dark” and a lot of them are “powerful.” One or two are “disturbing.”
I don’t know. Each year I hope to learn that publishing has turned a corner and opened up the field to real creativity. Instead, it’s always discouraging to see that our gatekeepers think creativity is found only in the plots and settings and not in the actual writing. As long as that’s the case, writers are going to be inclined to write novels that hew to the average.
And, ironically, the more exotic the setting, the more average.