One of the most memorable novels I’ve ever read is Richard Russo’s Empire Falls (2001). When I came across this essay by Russo, I knew I had to stop and take the time to settle in with it. I hope you learn from it as much as I did.
Rachel Monroe writes in The Atlantic about Matthew Cox, a former con man who has tried to re-create himself as a true-crime writer of the stories of his fellow inmates. By doing this Cox apparently hopes to rewrite his own narrative arc as the guy who want to prison and learned how to make something of himself. Monroe’s story of Cox’s story is fascinating.
Holly Genovese wonders why Adrienne Rich “has stayed relevant when other writers of the ’70s feminist movements have not.”
But I think, if I could guess, that Rich’s continuous appeal over the last 50 years is more about her absolute certainty that politics and art were intrinsically linked, that art was meaningless without political consciousness, that nothing could exist within a vacuum, and that choosing not to take a stand was in fact choosing the side of the oppressor.
And Rich continues to be relevant because “In the last few years, since the election of Donald Trump, it has become impossible not to be political. To be apolitical is to support the growth of fascism, white nationalism, and the downfall of the republic.”
As always, the personal is political.
Here’s the descriptive subtitle of this article: “Celebrating the literature of slippery relationships, villainous allies, and morally dubious life decisions.”
We’re told that conflict is the essential ingredient of all storytelling, and that directive applies most literally to crime fiction, in which one character wants something that another character doesn’t want to grant or allow. The thief wants to steal something that someone else possesses. The stalker wants a relationship with someone who doesn’t want to reciprocate. Sometimes the only solution is for both sides to compromise.
Or, as novelist Carl Vonderau explains:
I find the most interesting crime fiction to be stories wherein the protagonist must make a deal with a morally ambiguous and seemingly villainous character. And that villainous ally? They usually have their own strange moral code and want something in return. At least one of them usually ends up changed for the worse, and it would be apt to recall that a good compromise makes both sides unhappy.
Here he discusses nine novels, including The Godfather and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, that illustrate such uneasy alliances.
This article reminded me of the piece about Judith Krantz that I mentioned last week.
As writers of decidedly popular fiction, both Krantz and Robbins epitomized the culture they lived in and wrote for.
He crafted racy novels — sweeping literary cinemas bursting with beautiful, arrogant characters, rags-to-riches plots laced with betrayal, murder and passion — that readers gobbled up like printed popcorn, buying more than 750 million copies. “Mad Men is a very Harold Robbins kind of story,” says his biographer, Andrew Wilson. “It’s perhaps presented in a different way, but it’s that milieu, that narrative arc of secrets, the corrupting nature of power and wealth, sex, all of the elements. One could argue that these kinds of series would not have been conceived without Harold Robbins’ influence on popular culture.”
What exactly is an “unfilmable” book?
And now that Netflix is throwing time and money at several potential adaptations, “So has TV ended the age of the unfilmable book?”
© 2019 by Mary Daniels Brown