I heard six stories in all, and by the time the third one started, I was still impressed with the writing, but I suddenly became aware that the stories were fairly plotless. From what I heard all of the stories did have plots, but they were thin, serving more as a carrier for the writing, which I personally still find satisfying.
But, it made me wonder. Are plot and this type of literary writing incompatible? I tried to imagine a book that had both a heavy plot and the insightful details that Levine had, and I got the impression that the two would clash somehow. As I think about it now, I wonder if maybe what makes that insight powerful is the fact that it comes from nothing. Like in Virginia Woolf's To The Lighthouse, it is the mundane aspect of the story that makes the insight powerful. Maybe Woolf ushered in this new type of fiction that is now called literary fiction--I haven't read enough to be able to know that for sure. John Updike does a similar thing in his Rabbit books. Over and over again I'm captivated by the insight of his details, the little moments. Meanwhile, the overall plots are far less interesting (though more substantial than some other books).
Then, I think about the classics. Many of those seem much more plot heavy as well as being heavy on character. I think of Moby Dick or The Iliad or Kreutzer Sonata. I would definitely call these books literary as well, but I realize all of a sudden that the qualities that make these books literary to me are not the same qualities that make The Girl With Brown Fur or Olive Kittridge or Unaccustomed Earth literary to me. Hardly any of the characters in Unaccustomed Earth are memorable to me. That's not Lahiri's focus, at least in my opinion. The skills of the classic literary writing revolved around developing so many other things besides the insightful detail.
I think what was literary yesterday is not the same style of writing as what's considered literary today. They're two different genres.
I suppose in all art there are different movements. In music and painting and sculpture and writing, new writers change the value and standards of old writing and so the transformation of literary writing can be seen as this same sort of evolution. But, somehow I think this isn't the case. I think classic literary and contemporary literary are not the same thing at all. They haven't emerged from the same branch. I'd say Scott G. F. Bailey's novels fall more into the classical literary style while what I was writing up until last year fell more into contemporary literary. (My recent stories are more plot driven and I've been missing something in them and I realize that it is this thing I talk about here.)
So...what does this mean? It's sort of a weird realization for me. I feel a bit lost. I feel like the elements I've been focusing on, this sort of platform based on insightful detail, is perhaps a completely bad direction to have gone in because it cuts off so many other possibilities of story. It's almost like contemporary literary writing is a genre that I don't feel like pursuing anymore, like maybe it's too narrow, even though I still enjoy reading it. I've been confused a bit of late because all literary writing was starting to feel similar to me. I thought maybe I was just becoming more attracted to other genres of fiction. But, I think it's actually still literary I'm after, but a different literary style than what's currently en vogue. Maybe from here I go somewhere new. Or, maybe from here I go somewhere old.
I hope it's new.
Does this make any sense at all? Am I crazy?