Literary Fiction Rears Its Ugly Head Again

In my never-ending cycle of market research (can it be a market if I never sell anything?), I picked up a copy of Gentlemen’s Quarterly (save yer click, no content, just “offer” of a subscription and the cover), which somehow gets published every month. Aside from the eyecandy cover phototeeenay on Eva Mendez, ranked SOTSF (Some Of That + Small Fries), GQ includes some articles, a piece of criticism, and Heaven help me, a Short Story.

So the plot of “Side Angle Side”, this month’s obra, is: Married middle-aged editor of an alternative weekly paper goes for an illicit weekend with the young hot pants up-and-coming writer. They share some joints and some sex, and then she gets weird on him and they get kicked out of the cabin they’d rented, he drives them home, she’s weirder on him, he goes home to his wife and young child, and hot pants writes something weird and resigns. I didn’t count, but it looks like it took several thousand words.

This story seemed like deja vu all over again. Didn’t I just read that story in Harper’s? No, wait, it was a college professor going off with a student, or maybe a struggling writer and a teenage bookstore clerk.

Let’s face it, literary fiction in the slicks is too much like Mad Libs for the intelligentsia in mid-life crises. Aside from the occasional sprinkling of pieces containing Cause-of-the-Week imaginings of what it was like to be an oppressed member of the opposite sex in the past or some sort of deviant (sorry, rebellious oppressed spirit), old-dude-sleeping-with-hot-young-chick again (or for once) is all they got. It’s the snooty equivalent of a Penthouse letter, and not as titillating.

As every single protagonist in literary fiction could tell you, Thoreau said that most men lead lives of quiet desperation. Because life is the constant struggle against the entropy that the cold universe offers as the only alternative, I guess the desperate struggle sort of makes sense. But it’s the quiet part that might bug literary authors. Perhaps they, and their protagonists, would rather rage, rage against the dying of the light by fornicating and affecting adolescence. Here in the Midwest, we rage against the dying of the light by getting up in the morning and going to work.

Maybe once, or twice, this problem, undoubtedly first discovered by Literary writers, of growing older and the hypothesis “struggling through casual sex is good” could have been interesting. If the protagonist had grown, or learned something, or maybe just regretted. Instead, the drugs, booze, and sex have just become Largest-Ball-Of-Twine tourist attractions in the same landscape of quiet desperation that other people, with real jobs, travel through without making those particular stops. Instead, each writer goes through his or her (paging Ms. Jong) own struggle, which includes a lot of humping with no resolution. The protagonists, and the authors, don’t seem to get past it.

While I wait for some writer to arise, somehow fighting through the tenured culture of the established writers and established subject matter for the dogmatic slicks and orthodox university presses, to go all Hemingway on the literary bunch and break their walking sticks of his or her head, I’ll continue to prefer the genre stylings of science fiction, fantasy, and mystery. The types of short stories and novels wherein the protagonists confront a problem and overcome it. Well, not always, but the struggle’s admirable.

Of course, I could start the revolution, but I don’t have time. After I finish meddling with this sci-fi piece I have open in another window, I have to get to bed. I have to work on Monday.