There is a deep divide between genre readers and literary fiction readers. Literary fiction readers have filled that divide with water and added some alligators for fun. Genre fiction fans are happy to stand on their side shrieking, "Borrring!" and throwing rocks. Anyone who attempts to cross back and forth is likely to be knocked out with a rock and gnawed on by gators.
You see them bloodied and crawling around in the muck, weakly claiming that genre novels can be literary, and literary novels can fall into genre categories.
Because I grew up feral in the wilds of the public library, I never learned the rules about books. No human explained that literary fiction was superior and distinct from genre fiction; no one cautioned me against the acute boredom of a thick literary tome. I consumed science fiction, mysteries, literary novels, stories about animals, gothics, biographies, contemporary fiction, and how-to books. Just as I learned to follow the trail of a new hardback through the stacks, I also learned that there were good books and terrible books in every section.
Off I went to college and I was shocked to learn that commercial fiction were tacky, genre books were laughable. I hid my love of sci-fi and fantasy like dirty polyester sheets. My fellow creative writing students and I wrote short stories about tragedy and anguish. We had wonderful vocabularies and were skilled with a thesaurus. Our stories had important symbolism. We wrote in present-tense, third person, and we read our fiction aloud in flat, disaffected voices so that the words were paramount. We accepted the brutal criticism of our peers and professors. We were dedicated to improving our skills.
Yet, somewhere in the back of my mind, I had doubts. I loved clean, concise prose, but it never fit comfortably. Sometimes I would see "bad" writing -- florid, violet, quilted, curlicued -- and it made my heart zing.
I once took a seminar in British theatre and our professor asked a student from
After college, I returned to my feral reading habits, enjoying whatever struck my mood. When I finally returned to writing, I discovered the divided camps. I'm not as compliant now as when I was young. I won't declare loyalty for one side over the other. So I'm in the moat with other uncommitted authors. We dodge the flying rocks and use them to keep those gators at bay.
The majority of people on either side relate to their worlds; they've got no motivation to create common ground. I keep hoping that people with influence will see how ridiculous this ditch is and call in a crew to fill it. With time, others might be tempted to explore beyond their comfort zones and who knows what exciting things will happen then.
Some genre-bending novels for your consideration:
The Yiddish Policeman's Union: Pulitzer Prize-winner Michael Chabon' new novel is both a fantasy and a crime novel. What if
To Say Nothing of the Dog: Connie Willis's sci-fi homage to P.G. Wodehouse and Jerome K. Jerome. Time travel, Victoriana, and mishaps.
The Road: Cormac McCarthy envisions a post-apocalyptic world -- it's literary, but with cannibals!
American Gods: Neil Gaiman's novel is a road trip gone bad, an exploration of American identity and landscape, and a supernatural thriller.
Tree of Hands: Ruth Rendell's books transcend the mystery genre. This story about mental illness and child abduction is creepy, dark, and beautifully written.
What genre-bending books can you think of?