I think Lionel Shriver is a fantastic writer. It’s a shame she doesn’t stick to writing.
Literature is not very popular these days, to put it mildly. According to the National Endowment for the Arts, nearly half of Americans do not read books at all, and those who do average a mere six a year. You’d think literary writers would be bending over backwards to ingratiate themselves to readers — to make their work maximally accessible, straightforward and inviting. But no.
The rest of the piece is about dialogue attribution (this is my take).
What bizarre conception of literature would have it intended primarily for nonreaders? The mangled logic of this view, which perversely seems to be widely shared by many who do read, seems to me so far removed from any plausible assessment of the place of ‘literature’ in our culture as to be pretty close to insane. That ‘literature is not very popular’ at a time when the most potent measure of popularity is American Idol ought to be seen as a sign it still offers some hope of resistance to the values of commerical culutre. Most of all it should be seen precisely as an opportunity to experiment with aesthetic strategies that challenge audiences rather than giving in to the inexorable pressure to ‘dumb down.’
Aesthetic considerations aside, Shriver doesn’t even make commercial sense because the market is saturated with lowest-common-denominator genres that don’t sell – chick lit, celebrity autobios, and soon misery memoir. Poets who imitate stand-up comedians are treated with justified derision by audiences and peers alike. Meanwhile you can reel off lists of unconventional, user-unfriendly books that do really well – like the novel that made Shriver’s name, which is narrated by the parent of a serial murderer.
There’s a great lost American novel, Love Warps the Mind a Little by John Dufresne. In it Lafayette Proulx, a struggling novelist, is at a spoken word night chatting to fellow scribblers. One of them says that literature needs to make itself more accessible to the general public. Writers need to keep their fiction simple, relevant and unshowy.
‘Yeah,’ Proulx replies, ‘or maybe we could just make endearing noises.’