Wednesday, January 4, 2012
Why It's Easier to Love Straightforward Fiction
For the most part, we all live in a structure with four walls and a floor and a roof. We sleep in a bed. We eat three meals a day. We do something every day to earn money. Our lives are pretty straightforward (with a ton of complication beneath, of course), and I think most of the reading population out there prefers straightforward fiction. We like our plots linear, our characters flawed and working toward fixing those flaws, our prose structured in the traditional manor with paragraphs and forward-moving thoughts. Sideways? Distracting? Choppy? No, thanks, right? We like to see things connecting. We like to see layers. And most of all, we like a satisfying ending.
As I was growing up, I stuck with straightforward fiction. I didn't know any different. Then I went to college and jumped into a pool completely foreign to me. It was disorienting, to say the least. I had never read authors like Virginia Woolf and James Joyce who threw a lot of things I was used to out the window. I was uncomfortable reading sentences which followed no set structure, but ran and on, going nowhere if I didn't pay close enough attention. Gertrude Stein made me want to gnaw my way through a piece of wood. I didn't understand a lot of what I read for a long time. Students surrounding me kept acting like this deeply literary fiction was something truly special and amazing, and I seriously didn't get it.
Why read something that makes no sense?
Then I discovered poetry and a whole new world opened up to me. I learned how to look past the surface layer of confusion, and slowly, I grew used to the idea of loving something different and crazy. My brain evolved, I guess. I saw the treasures inside classical fiction - if I was willing to work for them.
That's the thing. I think most of us prefer fiction as an escape. Most of us want to pick up a book and be entertained in the most traditional manner. Tell me a story. Let my mind turn off a bit while I absorb it. Then at the end, make me smile. I'll admit I read a lot of fiction like this because I enjoy it. Even most of the classic literary fiction on my shelves is straightforward. I don't have a lot of the disorienting stuff, but I love what I do have. I'd like to discover more, and as Scott and Davin have talked about disorienting fiction this week, I can add Nadine Gordimer and Alice Munro to my list.
Once I had read enough disorienting fiction, I noticed that it began slipping into my own short fiction. I wanted to experiment and see where that took me. Some of these pieces have become favorites of mine. A few of them are in my short story collection, True Colors. Some readers have already told me they didn't like those stories. I expected that, but I'm not going to let it stop me from doing more and more original things in my fiction. Things that fall right into that disorienting category, because I think when we really get into a piece of fiction that makes us feel like we're in some sort of strange land where we're not entirely comfortable, we're allowed to let our thoughts and experience go to places they wouldn't have gone before. For instance, Woolf inspires me on a level no other author can even touch. It makes me sad that a lot of readers won't even crack open one of her books. She is, however, one of the most disorienting authors I've read. Some authors who do disorienting things in their fiction are still very accessible. I'm thinking Alice Munro is one of those authors.
So, tell me, why do you love straightforward fiction? Have you tried to delve into any disorienting fiction? If so, who?
Posted by Michelle D. Argyle at 7:25 AM