Thursday, May 15, 2008

Adam Kirsch On James Frey And "Reality Instructor" Writers

James Kirsch's review of James Frey's novel BRIGHT SHINY MORNING makes a very good point about "Reality Instructors": when an author has a shallow and crude "vision" of the world but tries to peddle it as "The Truth."

Choice quote:
Only those writers willing to be humbled by the real are able to capture it for literature. Writers who must always be seen to dominate reality, on the other hand, can never grasp it. Their need to appear wised-up means that they can only allow themselves to write in ways that the world already recognizes as realistic -- that is, in cliches.

Read the rest.

So you want to "tell it like it is," give the reader "gritty reality"... guess what, reality isn't always gritty, and no one has all the answers just because he says so. Don't try too hard to "talk tough".

Having said that, there are writers who write "tough" and talk "tough"... and sell to legions of readers who want to be "tough".
But, fans of "tough guy" literature... beware! Writers are liars. That wartime experience they're trying to impress you with might be fake or exaggerated. There are plenty of writers who only pretend to "keep it real" and invent "tough" life experiences.

Whenever a writer makes a point of being photographed in uniform or wearing medals, or talks at length about his/her "tough upbringing" I immediately get suspicious.

As for me? I am frequently baffled and puzzled by the world around me; I have no final answers to share. And as for the work of writing... it's about as macho as painting porcelain. I write in order to explore reality, not to give some "final explanation" of it.