Over at The Guardian, Edward Docx throws another punch for literary fiction.
It’s worth dealing with the difference again, since everyone seems to have forgotten it or become chary of the articulation. Mainly this: that even good genre (not Larsson or Brown) is by definition a constrained form of writing. There are conventions and these limit the material. That’s the way writing works and lots of people who don’t write novels don’t seem to get this: if you need a detective, if you need your hero to shoot the badass CIA chief, if you need faux-feminist shopping jokes, then great; but the correlative of these decisions is a curtailment in other areas. If you are following conventions, then a significant percentage of the thinking and imagining has been taken out of the exercise. Lots of decisions are already made.
So it follows that genre tends to rely on a simpler reader psychology. If you have a body on the first page, then you raise a question: who killed it and how did it get there? And curiosity will power readers a surprisingly long way. As will, say, a treasure hunt (Brown) or injustice (Grisham) or the locked room mystery format (Larsson). None of this is to say that writing good thrillers is easy. It is still incredibly difficult. But it is easier.
Docx uses an excellent metaphor about a burger joint and a fancy restaurant. Patrons have different expectations of a greasy diner cook and world class chef. Failure by the anticipated ‘better’ packs a bigger punch than an expected so-so.
At least Docx isn’t falling into typical argument against genre fiction (which he actually details in his article) – his thesis is that genre writers can’t claim that the high sales of their books and resultant large paychecks indicate a high value to their work.
He uses Dan Brown and Stieg Larsson as his primary examples of wildly popular and successful genre writers. I have read books by both authors and thoroughly enjoyed them. I also think their craft sucks. But just as I can appreciate a beautiful image by Aimee Bender or a long, weaving sentence by Yates, I see the value in a go get ‘um kind of book that practically turns the page for me. As I’ve said before, I don’t always want to work when I read. Sometimes I like the story to do all the heavy lifting. And that can be very satisfying in and of itself.
To Docx’s point, sure, certain authors should be aware of their limitations of craft even as they cash that million dollar check. I just don’t see that happening any time soon. A high paycheck equals a high value, doesn’t it?