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Pickle Me This

August 19, 2007

On commerical fiction

Once again, I won’t be naming names, as I believe no Google search should take a reader to a review by one who was never meant to read that writer in the first place. Howevert I didn’t start off with a bias. I wanted to read the latest novel by JP because if she’s that popular surely the book would be enjoyable in a summery way, and because I’d read this profile in The Guardian and it intrigued me. I am also very interested in what lies within the massive gulf between fictions popular and literary, and as this latest novel addresses much of the same material as Lionel Shriver’s incredible We Need to Talk About Kevin, I thought here we have a fabulous case study.

In the Guardian profile, JP reports, “I tell my publicist not to send me the New York Times, which if they do write about me only do so in order to be snide. But the best revenge is when I end up top of their bestseller list. Which happens all the time.” (Incidentally I found it amusing that she notes that she is more prolific than Joyce Carol Oates.) I don’t want to be snide at all, but the fact was (and this rarely happens to me) I couldn’t read this book. I tried, I failed, I skimmed to the end and found that I’d called it from the first chapter, and that the big twist at the end was laughably ridiculous.

On top of not naming names, I also believe that those who don’t finish books have no business reviewing them (hello amazon), so I won’t. But I will provide some speculation in regards to that gulf between fictions I noted above. It was interesting that my aborted read of JP’s latest was followed by Digging to America by Anne Tyler. Tyler is literary, but unpretentiously so, and so I imagine her work is easily marketed as commercial, which makes for some effective comparison. Craft: that we are told in the first chapter of the JP book that a character is not what she seems, that nobody knows what lies inside her, while Tyler actually shows us this through multiple perspectives. Character development: that JP’s characters are all basically good albeit with tragic flaws, except the absolute baddie who dies anyway so no matter, whereas some of Anne Tyler’s characters are absolutely rotten, and even the good ones are rotten in parts. Finally: that JP’s story is all situation, a “what-if” but the story never goes beyond that. Could this be the crux then, bad popular fiction at its baddest? That life there seems to be lived entirely on the platform of situation, and nobody ever seems to get off it?

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