I like to consider myself a reasonably well read person.Â Nobody can read everything, of course,Â but I get around a bit.Â Â Truth is,Â I tend to read more stuff written before 1900 than I do after 1970.Â And I had that reinforced this past week when I read the Fiction 2010 insert to Atlantic Magazine.Â
The Atlantic has been and remains one of the most prestigious magazines currently published, and they are able to attract only the best fictionÂ available.Â Â And so, on a flight from Atlanta I settled down ready to be impressed.Â
The problem with fiction today is the unremitting, negative tone.Â The only article in the whole insert that wasÂ the least bit positive was the piece by Joyce Carol Oates about how she was dealing with the real life death of her husband.Â Â
And it’s not even justÂ that the stories are negative.Â Â It’s the characters that I loathe.Â Each seems trapped in a hell of their own making, not only unwilling but actually unable to change their situation or their perception of it.Â Is that what literature has come to?Â Is it such a reflection of our society that not even in our imaginations can we find a way to change our situation or our viewpoint?Â Or has the society we have created over the last 30 years so affectedÂ our most creative people so that they all they can see ahead of us is failure and immobility?Â
Perhaps it is us, the readers.Â Â Can we honestly say thatÂ Farewell to Arms would be a best seller today?Â Can you imagine how To Kill a Mockingbird would have to be rewritten to sell today?Â Seven Days in May wouldn’t be nearly convoluted or violent enough to find an agent.Â Are we so jaded as readers that only the most macbre and twisted has interest for us?Â Â
I don’t think so.Â Normal people don’t read great fiction anymore; they read light, escapist fair.Â Frankly I don’t blame them.Â I’ll spend an evening with Father Tim anytime if the alternative isÂ a sexually promiscuousÂ 18 year oldÂ child who needs to shack up with a 50 year old man because her own parents are unable to formÂ emotional bonds with each other or their child.Â MaybeÂ artistic fiction has gotten to the point where it no longer has anything to say to most of us, the point where it no longer helps lead us to a better place, the point where itÂ onlyÂ shows us futures that are not worth living?Â Â
And what does that say about the world and the society that is creating it?