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Roy Rubin

1-Hmmm, well he must be reading a different NYT front page for the last 4 years than I have?

2-Maybe navel gazing has turned the public to TV?

3-I know that sounded anti-intellectual, but remember that party scene in Five Easy Pieces where Jack tells the parlor intellectual to take her brains and shove it?



For me the insidious part of ST's comment isn't "narrative" so much as "relevance," whatever the hell that means. I'm kind of old-fashioned, it has been remarked, so I have no beef with telling a linear story. But this notion of relevance in a novel seems to be his way of telling novelists to write non-fiction.

I had an exchange with an editor friend of mine, who said it best, really. Here's what he advised me:

"It's not a novelist's job to worry about the novel or the Day. That's for the rest of us. A novelist has much more pressing things to worry about--as I'm sure you know. Like how to get characters in and out of a room, or what to name the fuckers. Which require total concentration. If the evening news forces its way in there, you know, so be it, but I don't see anything wrong with the small canvas in itself. I'd rather read Portnoy's Complaint or La Princesse de Cleves than The Human Stain. It's not that there's anything wrong with engaging, I just don't think it gets you any extra points when it comes to readability or depth."

Sounds about right to me.


Dan Green


I agree with you that ST clearly prefers nonfiction, fiction only to the degree it can be discussed as if it were nonfiction.

Similarly, it seems to me that in celebrating "narrative," he's really advocating for the kind of "storytelling" journalists do, not the more complex uses of narrative to be found in some novels.

Juniper Peyri

Narrative is easier to follow and understand (A->B->C), but I think that other literary forms such as stream-of-consciousness (A/A) and absurdism (A->K) are more relevant to modern life. As such, I share your disdain for Tanenhaus's obsession with traditional narrative. It reminds me of when I was apart of Ayn Rand's Objectivist cult and I thought that the only way to write a story was by creating an intricate Hugo-esque plot. I know better now. William Faulkner and George Saunders in particular have shown me more interesting ways of depicting the human experience.

Damon Garr

I should admit that I am a bit of a traditionalist myself, but I had a similar reaction to Tannenhaus's statement. But after looking at the selections and his track record, I think he was just looking for a way of explaining why they liked more fiction this year--without really knowing what he was saying.

We must remember that any review (or best-of list) is entirely subjective. To talk about "relevance" only means that he likes "relevant" books. It shouldn't slow anyone down from writing totally irrelevant books. We might all want a good review in the NYTBR, but that's not why we're writing.


Perhaps he is a believer in Tom Wolfe's brand of literature as Wolfe proclaimed in "Stalking the Million Footed Beast" (I think). Fiction informed by journalism. I like that kind of fiction, too (all other things being equal), but it is a very small part of the universe of good fiction, it seems to me.

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