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Roy Rubin

If it makes any literary fan feel better, the movies are in steep decline.

I'm not sure this author's critique of Perotta's prose is about lazy writing. Is there envy the fellow gets his work filmed?


I'm not sure that novelists write with the idea of their works becoming movies. For those of us with credible small publishers, the possibility certainly is enticing. Financially, it's difficult to make a living at this craft; a movie deal might help (but I've heard too many horror stories to see this as a true silver bullet).

Am I correct in reading between the lines that genre fiction is only worthy of derision on this blog?

Just curious.

Within the "confines" of my chosen genre, I find tremendous freedom. What astounds me is that I'm starting to attract much younger readers 18-30 though my protag is in her early 40s. So, I'm not convinced about this decline of reading that's causing such hair loss right now.

Dan Green

"Am I correct in reading between the lines that genre fiction is only worthy of derision on this blog?"

You are not. I'm not sure why you would conclude that based on this post, which in fact derides "literary fiction."


"I understand that practically everyone in the world has a "screenplay" in the works, and that few of them will ever be produced, but if you're going to write a novel that exists only as a proto-movie, why not just write it up as a script to begin with?"


I don't say this to be snarky.

At the moment, the Perotta-model is how one pitches a novel to be snapped up, and the Hollywood model is lowest common denominator, which they gauge by book sales.

I remember when Mrs Ted Bliss was published reading a blurb somewhere saying someone had bought the film rights. Huh? I wondered.

It would be impossible to make a movie as good as an Elkin novel for precisely the equal and opposite reason a poor novel can make a good movie. How do you storyboard Elkin? How easy to storyboard out bad writing.

But it's the book sales that lead to the storyboarding.

Roy Rubin

and another reason why comics make good screenplays


Tom Perrotta doesn't seem a representative practitioner of "literary fiction." At least, I doubt he's someone MFA students are trying to emulate (which seems the standard for fashionable literary fiction, if there is such a thing). Just choosing a few off the top of my head, I'd say a representative pool of influential literary writers of the last 10-15 yrs would include people like Richard Ford, Denis Johnson, Lorrie Moore, Don DeLillo, David Foster Wallace, Alice Munro, Colson Whitehead, George Saunders--whatever you think of their work, none of these people seem to be writing with an eye toward movie adaptation.

Dan Green

I don't consider DeLillo or Wallace or Moore or even Saunders (whose work I don't like) to be part of "mainstream literary fiction." They've proven themselves distinctive, truly "serious" writers who, in the case of DeLillo and Wallace at least, are precisely writing *against* the grain of mainstream, movie-soaked fiction. Of the other writers you mention, I'm afraid I find Ford and Munro entirely conventional writers whose fiction would indeed seem to be good candidates for "indy" adaptations (at the very least.)

Howard Goldowsky

Come on, Perrotta is not as bad as you say he is. Every writer has his strengths and weaknesses. That being said, the characters' dialogue in the book form of [i]Election[/i] were not nearly individualized enough for the stereortypes that they were.


I wasn't making the case for any of those writers, most of whom I'm indifferent to. But any one of them is a more representative, more influential, more universally admired writer--among other writers--than Perrotta, who doesn't seem to have any pretensions to high art and who probably draws a fair number of his readers from the ranks of airport-fiction fans.

And if you're arguing that Munro or Ford writes with the screen in mind, you're either reading them badly or not at all. Ford's late (tiremsome) novels, in fact, seem just as much against the grain of movie-lust as DeLillo's or Wallace's. They are almost entirely first-person introspection, which has no place on screen, even though they probably will be badly adapted by someone. I don't disagree that there are writers out there following Perrotta's path, but you're just positing that this is the dominant strain in the literary world today--you haven't provided any convincing evidence that it's true.

Dan Green

"any one of them is a more representative...writer"

But they're not. They're exceptions. Very few people write like DeLillo or Wallace. Lots of people write like Perotta.


But there's a decent-sized body of films, mainstream and otherwise, good and bad, that veer away from the conventional sort of storytelling (plot, character, resolution, all that) that The Reading Experience often critiques. Memento, Pulp Fiction, spring to the top of my mind as examples of self-consciously disordered narrative work. And plenty of story-free (or story-incoherent) human creations are turned into films. Old TV shows. Video games.

So I think there's something other than the drive to be made into film that motivates Tom Perotta to write the way he does. One guess would be that he believes the best way to get attention for his work is to make it go down easy. In the same way that Don Delillo announces his massive talent in a few sentences and seems therefore worth the energy of engagement, a book that fits Dan Green's characterization of Little Children would announce itself as not requiring much energy and therefore a low-risk investment.

However, I don't think that some degree of adherence to the precepts of conventional storytelling dooms a book to the nullity. It seems to me that the artful arrangement of these materials, plot, character, resolution, has the potential to amount to a kind of formal radicalism. Of course, all of the examples I can think of off the top of my head, Don Quixote, Anna Karennina, Mishima come from different cultures and times than the one in which Little Children was created and consumed. Obviously, the style of these works is a big part of what makes them appealling, but I also think that the manner in which they carry-out the dictates of, for the sake of short-hand example, tension and resolution and all that contributes importantly to their interest.

Also, Alice Munro rocks. I think I was part of another conversation on this blog where a series of people, including myself, described the experiencing of being dismissive of or baffled by her work and then for some reason or another, clued in more fully to the aesthetic experience of reading her fiction and being thereafter converted.


Lest we forget, there has always been a wide range of fiction writers, whether it was pulp or literary or both or whatever, and there is still a range. I wonder if what you're saying could be studied more, so that one could find a genre of novels that are movies-in-waiting-disguised-as-literature.

I worked for a literary agent who was partnered up with a film agent, and the film agent's assistant would read the novels from our clients in manuscript form to see if it was worth her boss trying to sell it to producers, to get it optioned. I don't know that I saw a problem with it. Your contention that this is now working ass-backwards, as it were, with novelists taking on a director's gaze as they write, is certainly debateable, and both sides could find evidence.

Part of me doesn't mind the occasional novelist with a cinematic vision. Does that mean I'm contributing to the downfall of literature as we know it?


"any one of them is a more representative...writer"

But they're not. They're exceptions. Very few people write like DeLillo or Wallace. Lots of people write like Perotta.

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