Or perhaps our cognitive abilities are just marred by a burgeoning head cold

Lev Grossman complains in Time that literature has become increasingly rarified. He longs for the days before Modernism when, he says, “No one looked down on Scott and Tennyson and Stowe for being wildly successful. No one got all embarrassed when they were caught reading the new Edgar Allan Poe over lunch.”

Grossman doesn’t care for Stephen King’s work but is glad of the lifetime achievement award recently bestowed upon King:

I hope it encourages the small but determined school of writers who are carefully, lovingly grafting the prose craft of the literary heap onto the sinewy, satisfying plots of the trashy one to produce hybrid novels that offer the pleasures of both. Writers like Donna Tartt and Alice Sebold, Neal Stephenson and Iain Banks, Jonathan Lethem and Margaret Atwood, writers whose work will most likely define — more than anything by brilliant mandarins like Wallace or Franzen — what will be known to later generations as the 21st century novel.

Did he pull these pairings out of a hat? Literature will be saved by Donna Tartt and Alice Sebold, by hybrid novels of the kind produced by Jonathan Lethem and Margaret Atwood?

Leaving aside the question of relative talent, I see few, if any, common features of these writers’ efforts. Even the comparison of David Foster Wallace with Jonathan Franzen is questionable.

As for Lethem and Atwood, it’s not as if these authors have just burst onto the scene. They’ve been writing for years. What’s more, Lethem’s early books (e.g., Gun, With Occasional Music) are characterized much more by the kind of hybridity that Grossman prizes than the latest Lethem novel, The Fortress of Solitude. Are we to assume Lethem is on a downward slope, then?

Finally, there are plenty of writers–Harry Crews (Body, The Knockout Artist, A Feast of Snakes) springs to mind–who’ve spent the last several decades writing novels that are praised in some corridors of the literary world but are also crowd-pleasers. No doubt someone else could come up with some examples in the crime genre. (First seen at The Elegant Variation.)


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