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View Full Version : Literary storm rages as critic Lee Siegel pronounces the American novel dead



bijou
07-05-2010, 02:07 PM
Book pundits in the United States are being urged to line up on one side or other this summer: Is the American novel finally dead or not? The row began when the controversial critic Lee Siegel wrote a piece for the New York Observer declaring that the American public no longer talk about novels and that this creative form, once so full of fire, has lost its spark for ever.

"For about a million reasons," Siegel claimed, "fiction has now become a museum-piece genre most of whose practitioners are more like cripplingly self-conscious curators or theoreticians than writers. For better or for worse, the greatest storytellers of our time are the non-fiction writers."

As the Samuel Johnson Prize for non-fiction, awarded on Thursday in London, recognised the importance of the new book by American journalist Barbara Demick, Nothing to Envy: Real Lives in North Korea, the debate Siegel has re-started raged on in books pages and on literary websites. Will American fiction ever compete again with non-fiction for contemporary relevance, critics in both camps are asking.

Siegel's assault on America's novelists was prompted by the publication of the New Yorker's annual "20 Under 40" list of new writers, but it has exposed a bitterness at the heart of the world of books.

Railing against "the New Yorker's self-promoting, vulgar list" of favoured newcomers, Siegel smears the whole literary pack as being damagingly self-referential and led by the nose by publicists. Calling for new talent and new genres, he laments the fact that nobody bothered to question the "20 Under 40" selection. ...http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2010/jul/04/literary-storm-lee-siegel-american-novel-dead

As the article goes on to point out, this is a recurring complaint and yet the literary novel staggers on. Though I rarely find one that I really enjoy, perhaps the interior world of the upper middle classes is just not compelling.

Gingersnap
07-05-2010, 02:24 PM
http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2010/jul/04/literary-storm-lee-siegel-american-novel-dead

As the article goes on to point out, this is a recurring complaint and yet the literary novel staggers on. Though I rarely find one that I really enjoy, perhaps the interior world of the upper middle classes is just not compelling.

Or interior worlds themselves are just not as compelling as we were led to believe for 50 years. Let's face it, most of the compelling fictional works revolve around concepts that are virtually alien today: self-sacrifice, sexual tension (not fulfillment), duty, redemption, temptation, etc.

Who really cares if a character bangs her way through dozens of vapid lovers and shakes her fist at the horrifying oppression of the Brazilian wax job? Middle aged women who dump their families to pursue sexual excess were titillating in the 1970s, now they are depressing. Middle aged men who actively assist in their own emasculation aren't even titillating. Your empty and nihilistic life despite having 10 rooms of Ikea is just boring.

The only interesting fiction being written today is genre fiction and even there, too much of it is pegged firmly at the 5th grade reading level.

If the American novel isn't dead yet, it's probably time to shoot it.

djones520
07-05-2010, 02:26 PM
I'm a pretty avid reader of novels. I'll generally stick to certain authors or series, but I do make the occasional foray to other fiction novels from authors I don't know, and don't have the big name backings that those I usually read do.

Most times I enjoy those books.

I wouldn't say that the American Novel is dead. Is it as strong as it once was? I can't say. But I know I'm still on a constant search for new books, and I doubt there'd be so many Borders if it truly was.

NJCardFan
07-05-2010, 02:48 PM
To me, American fiction died with Michael Crichton.

fettpett
07-05-2010, 05:25 PM
i think it depends on the genere. Sci-fi/Fantasy is doing ok (though with the explostion in popularity the quality has gone down in the last 15 years) but the "working-man" early 20th century types have died. There are a lot of authors like Dean Kook, Tom Clancey that just pump out a lot of books and are comerically