The New Yorker’s fiction is terrible.*
There, I said it.
Every week it’s another story about uninteresting, unhappy people becoming more unhappy still. There is little to no action; virtually nothing happens. Often it’s well-written, in the sense that there are nice turns of phrases, and the characters are explored in a way that gives them depth and personality. But it’s like putting lipstick on a pig.
These stories are always about presumably-white, upper-middle-class, modern-day Americans. “Regular people,” to speak broadly. And being a regular person, I don’t want to read about me. I want to read about people other than me because I’m pretty well familiar with me at this point. But worse still it’s about the specific miseries of regular people, about how cruel and beastly it is to be among the wealthiest people on the planet.
I was just lying in bed, preparing to go to sleep, when I thought I’d read Joshua Ferris’ “The Dinner Party,” the fiction article in the current issue (August 11). Now, I want to say upfront that I don’t fault Ferris for this article. By that I mean that it’s the basic fare of The New Yorker’s fiction section, so clearly this guy is doing something right, if we may presume that being published in the nation’s leading literary magazine is the definition of “doing something right” in the world of fiction. The piece started off well. He describes the playful, slightly wicked banter between a married couple as they prepare dinner for visiting friends. There are some nice observations (i.e. vegetables “bright and doomed”). But then the friends don’t show up. Hours later, the husband is dispatched to the friends’ house. He finds that the couple is having a big party. He’s informed by the wife that they were deliberately not invited, that the couple hates them, and that nobody likes them. The husband, angry, goes home, only to find that his wife has decided to leave him. The End.
So, what, I’m supposed to go to sleep now? With the idea planted in my mind that my friends hate me, they’re throwing parties behind my back, because I’m such a miserable SOB?
This is what happens every time I read a New Yorker fiction article. Sad people get sadder. Lonely people get lonelier. People I don’t care about become miserable, and that’s supposed to do what for me?
Who is it that likes this stuff? Who provided the marching orders that fiction must now be this dreck? Isn’t there an entire world of people out there who are very different from me, who have done things in life that I haven’t, who lived in the millennia past or will live in the millennia ahead, who have seen things and felt things and lived lives that I haven’t? Where are they? Where are their stories?
* With the exception of everything by T.C. Boyle (i.e. “Thirteen Hundred Rats“), and frequently the work of John Updike and Alice Munroe.