In fact the true postmodern novel is here, hiding in plain sight. We just haven't noticed it because we're looking in the wrong aisle. We were trained—by the Modernists, who else—to expect a literary revolution to be a revolution of the avant-garde: typographically altered, grammatically shattered, rhetorically obscure. Difficult, in a word. This is different. It's a revolution from below, up from the supermarket racks.
From the Wall Street Journal
I just read this very entertaining post from the Wall Street Journal. Basically, it discusses how more and more people are looking for novels with plot. I have nothing against Ulysses, or Lolita, or The Sound and the Fury. I've read them and, frankly, I didn't understand what was happening half the time. All those literary allusions and devices get in the way of the story. I know that these literary pyrotechnics are what make these novels great, but the fact that these novels are difficult to read are precisely the things that people don't read them in the first place.
I had a stage when I read only these "difficult" novels, thinking that they'd make me a better reader and earn bragging rights to my fellow bibliophiles. I was wrong, of course. If anything, reading these novels only made me realize how little I know of literature. (They just made me feel ignorant and stupid.) If you have severe masochistic tendencies like I do, then go ahead and read them.
Lately, I've been veering toward novels that are heavy on the plot. The argument that a novel possessing of a very engaging may not be at all well-written is laughable. Just look at the mysteries of Kate Atkinson and the police procedurals of Ian Rankin. Once you've sampled these, I doubt if you'll get the same satisfaction as when you read Grisham or Patterson. I guess having a good story and a tight narrative are the primary appeal of young adult novels. (Kids can't be bothered to read 700 pages about an Irishman who wanders through the streets of Dublin in a single day. They're smart enough to know that nothing exciting is ever going to happen.)
Perhaps the way we live now has changed our reading habits. Our hectic schedules have made us favor novels that can provide instant gratification. We no longer have the patience to go through Thomas Pynchon's labyrinthine novel that is Gravity's Rainbow or Marcel Proust's terribly slow and melodramatic novels that make up In Search of Lost Time (or Memories of Things Past). But our hunger for good writing will never go away. So now we're raving about the adventure stories of Michael Chabon and the hard-edged themes of Jonathan Lethem.
So how about you, dear reader? Are there any of these difficult novels that you've read? How has finishing them changed the way you feel about books and your reading habits?