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Pickle Me This

August 10, 2008

As all good fiction should…

Now, I am not one to approach my fiction from a purely aesthetic point of view. I wouldn’t even know how to, but even I was struck by the introduction to Patricia Robertson’s review of The Prairie Bridesmaid in this week’s G&M: “As all good fiction should, Daria Salaman’s debut novel… triggered some happy memories for this reader.” How weird.

First, that the grammar suggests all good fiction should trigger some good memories for Patricia Robertson specifically, which seems a tall order for writers (some of whom mightn’t even have met her!!). More seriously, I love sentimentality as much as the next soppy git, but when reviewing fiction in a national newspaper, shouldn’t one be expected to set their literary standards a bit higher? Which is not to say I have any problem with sentimentality, with nostalgia (because many of my favourite books take on a nostalgic bent, and I also realize that most history happened just minutes ago) but surely neither of these alone are substance enough to seize upon. And that Robertson goes on to write a decent review suggests to me that she knows this, so I’m confused why she chooses to open her piece as she does. Unless it is a subtle reference to “It is a truth universally acknowledged…”, not wholly out of place here, but then surely a more clever sweeping generalization might have been found?

Second– the idea that “all good fiction” could do one single thing, like a chorus. Few things get me more rankled, and I don’t care what that one single thing might be. I just believe believe we have to keep our definitions of fiction, its possibilities, so broad if there is to be any hope of “goodness” at all. That if fiction, good or otherwise, just like “the novel” and the “the story”, ever came to conform to these kind of prescriptions, to any prescriptions, how much we all would lose for it.

If every single book was the book that we wanted, we’d stop knowing how to fall in love.

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