Choire Sicha in Slate, in the course of correctly praising Ursula K. LeGuin, remarks:
The literary novel is, make no mistake, as much a pileup of inherited conventions as the worst werewolf cash-in. There are now thousands of young, MFA-toting writers, so many of them aping the weak generation of literary male novelists now in their 50s: pallid and insufferable teachers and idols, in light of the strong and inventive generation before them.
When you find yourself inserting “make no mistake” into an assertion, you should consider the possibility that you’re doing so because you subconsciously recognize that your assertion is not sufficiently well-justified.
Also: Sicha packs an amazingly dense tangle of sexual politics into just a few sentences! Literary fiction is stultifying because it’s tied to the cultural practices of men in their 50s. But they aren’t real men like their forbears, they are instead weak and pallid! (Katie Roiphe called and she wants her tendentious generalizations back. But then while she was on the phone Camille Paglia cut in on call-waiting and then things got really ugly.)
And the people with MFAs don’t just have MFAs — they tote them! Probably in a tote bag! Probably while drinking some insufferable kind of coffee drink!
Literary fiction — even literary fiction written by MFA-toters — is a big, rich, complicated zone. At the moment I am reading Peter Carey’s crazy Illywhacker — Carey is indeed a male of the old persuasion, but pallid he is not — and Heidi Julavits’s new book The Vanishers, which is unquestionably literary fiction but which has lots of psychic phenomena and astral travel in it. It’s a delight. And I started Justin Cronin’s vampire-apocalypse book The Passage, whose more “literary” parts are better than the other parts. I was promised it would be as good as The Stand, a great book whose status as literature is an interesting thing to think about.
I keep meaning to write a post about the ways in which Stephen King and Jonathan Franzen have converged on each other as writers, and how this fact helped me think about what “literary” means w/r/t novels. But there is no time to do it today, only time to snark about something I read in Slate. There is a lesson here.