From the New York Times, a list of the “best work of American fiction from the past 25 years” and an essay “In Search of the Best” by A. O. Scott, excerpted and commented on briefly below. [The NYT list exercise is in many ways absurd and seriously deficient — does that need to be pointed out? It fails to provide even a glancing overview of the vital works of contemporary American fiction, or even much insight into what might be more truly representative of or understood as “the best” — singly, let alone, variously, defined.]
“The three novels do what we seem to want novels to do, which is to blend private destinies with public events, an exercise that the postwar proliferation of media simultaneously makes more urgent and more difficult.”
Really? Or more urgent and easier? because we don’t have to wait a generation to gather so many of the facts, and stories, from, by now, around the globe.
“A big country demands big books…. The best works of fiction, according to our tally, appear to be those that successfully assume a burden of cultural importance. They attempt not just the exploration of particular imaginary people and places, but also the illumination of epochs, communities, of the nation itself. America is not only their setting, but also their subject.”
Really? That parochial? High quality global novels like Point of No Return (by the American international journalist, Andre Vltchek) would seem to have a leg up on novels that limit themselves to a national subject, rather than, by now, a global one. Novels of the global age can be found at Mainstay Press, and elsewhere of course. Maybe a few more of those will make the next list.
Some novelists and critics have commented on the necessary internationalization of American novels for over half a century. And a decade and a half ago, Maxine Hong Kingston commented in “The Novel’s Next Step,” Critical Fictions: The Politics of Imaginative Writing (Philomena Mariani, Ed.): “I’m going to give you a head start on the book that somebody ought to be working on. The hands of the clock are minutes away from nuclear midnight. And I am slow, each book taking me longer to write… So let me set down what has to be done, and maybe hurry creation, which is about two steps ahead of destruction…. All the writer has to do is make Wittman [hero of her novel, Tripmaster Monkey] grow up, and Huck Finn and Holden Caulfield will grow up. We need a sequel to adolescence—an idea of the humane beings that we may become. And the world will have a sequel…. The dream of the great American novel is past. We need to write the Global novel…. The danger is that the Global novel has to imitate chaos: loaded guns, bombs, leaking boats, broken-down civilizations, a hole in the sky, broken English, people who refuse connections with others…. How to stretch the novel to comprehend our times—no guarantees of inherent or eventual order—without having it fall apart? How to integrate the surreal, society, our psyches?”