Thursday, August 20, 2009

The Great American Novel

Today I read a fellow author’s post on this subject. She wondered if the desire to write The Great American Novel has been superseded by the desire to write the next million-dollar bestseller. She asked, “Is Anyone Really Writing the Great American Novel?”

Frankly, a great novel can be set in any locality, like yours, or in the imaginary Yoknapatawpha County from which William Faulkner created his fictional worlds. Even more frankly, a great novel has to be literary. I never know any great novels in the genre of Sci-Fi, Romance, YA, or that sort. Do you? Why literary? Because literary fiction deals with characterization more deeply, intensely. Not to mention its power of description of moods, scenes, and human characterization. Don’t yawn! Read The Sound and The Fury, especially the first two chapters on Benjy and Quentin, where human minds verging on insanity were skillfully wrought to the point of surrealism. Read Paris Trout by Pete Dexter. I don’t know about you but I felt a tingling in my spine just following this Trout character around. If you’re taken over by such a villain in a novel, like Trout, or Lester Ballard in Cormac McCarthy’s Child of God, then that novel must be literary.

I don’t think any writer would intend to write the ‘great American novel’ when he conceives the thought of writing. Any writer who says ‘I want to write the great such and such novel’ is illusionary. A novel that can examine human flaws, humiliation, racial bigotry usually transcends any locality it’s set in and becomes a global recognition in the literary world. It could be set in Pago-Pago like in Rain by W. Somerset Maugham, but it rises above it to become a short-story classic.

But to write it, a writer must be extraordinarily skilled.

So, do I want to write the Great American Novel? No. Just write!

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