Quick, what type of large-scale entertainment does the American public wait all year for, and enjoy most in summertime, when the blockbusters are released and the hype machine goes into overdrive?
That’s right. Summer fiction.
Summer fiction is usually equated with “beach reads,” but you won’t find any of that enjoyable crap in The New Yorker’s summer fiction issue. Technically the magazine contains only three pieces that qualify as fiction. One of these, a debut story by a recent Columbia MFA grad named Téa Obreht, is such a mannered, old-fashioned fable that the magazine might as well have dusted off one of those Eastern European folk tales it occasionally resurrects from the 1920s. (Remember when N+1 said that James Wood is such a fuddy-duddy, it’s like he’s trying to be his own grandfather? The same could be said of debut fiction writers in The New Yorker.)
The rest of the summer fiction issue is actually clips of “non-fiction” by anointed New Yorker writers. Unless you already know and love the author (as is the case with our boy Aleksandar Hemon) reading these one-page essays, about how D.H. Lawrence reminds the narrator of his mom, is a lot like visiting someone in the hospital after a heavy dose of sedatives has been administered, and listening to them ramble about the parking lot they can see from their window.
About the only thing The New Yorker’s summer fiction issue has going for it is that much of it is online for free.
Well, that and a major essay about creative writing programs.
Here at The Fiction Advocate we’ve been tempted to place certain books and articles on a required reading list. But that would make us a tyrant. So instead we strongly urge anyone who cares about the big picture of American fiction to take a few minutes to read Louis Menand’s review of The Program Era by Mark McGurl. Is the creative writing program the most important development in American fiction since WWII? Was Raymond Carver writing out of a sense of shame? Can you learn more from a mentor or a writing workshop? We don’t know, but these are the right questions to ask.
We’re glad we can have it both ways. The Fiction Advocate took a number of writing workshops as an undergraduate and graduate student, but never ponied up for an MFA. So if anybody asks, yes, we know exactly what the fuss is about, and no, we didn’t buy into it.
Anyway, what are you kids reading this summer?