Is not in ourselves, but in the genre.
Here’s New York magazine on Michael Chabon’s new book:
“Chabon . . . [a]lthough he cranks away with all kinds of fresh energy, he’s still limited by the detective story’s familiar machinery: When trails go cold, chance encounters heat them back up; imminent death is reliably thwarted by coincidental nearby hubbubs; guilty parties give helpful expository speeches.
I only mention this disappointment up front because it happens to be my single real reservation about The Yiddish Policemen’s Union—and technically it’s not even Chabon’s fault, just my own distaste for an unavoidable feature of the genre. Also, I wanted to establish at least the illusion of some kind of critical credibility before I started gushing.”
I’d like to think that Chabon, who tries to champion genre — or, more correctly, champions a more nuanced way of thinking about fiction than genre categorization — would be appalled by this logic. I know I am.
Want to talk coincidence? You need look no further than Ian McEwan’s SATURDAY, which has a huge, honking coincidence at the book’s end. Did the genre conventions jump out of the bushes and mug McEwan’s book? Or — sacrilegious thought — is it possible that all novelists use coincidence? Why is coincidence a problem in crime fiction, but not in mainstream fiction? Has the reviewer of Chabon’s book actually read enough crime fiction to be able to state, oh-so-authoritatively, that chance encounter, imminient death thwarted by hubbubs, and expository speeches are common to them all? I have to admit, when someone is confessing his distaste for something, I tend to think he may not have sampled it very widely. “This wine is plonk; I know because I drink it all the time.”
It would be nice if Chabon’s book, which is getting a wonderful reception, might inspire some critics to question their own rigid value systems. “An unavoidable feature of the genre . . . ” Again, if someone wants to show me the handbook with all these rules and guidelines, I would be happy to have it. I’m have a rotten time with the work-in-progress.
Welcome to the Friday fights. Step into the ring and throw some punches — even if they’re aimed at me.