One of the delinquent qualities I harp on, in the fiction that disappoints me the most, is the lazy sameness of it all. I don’t mean they’re all made of the same plots, or all equally under-worked and under-realized, or all in first person present continuous, or too often about bad relationships or middle class wilderness epiphanies or gifted and/or evil children. It’s more that everybody keeps drawing with the same six obvious crayons. Achieving the kindergarten’s bulletin-board “Art” Gallery effect of cloying, across-the-board Blah.
You can (you must) push the form; (re-) extend the boundaries of the comprehensible (in the way that Harlan Ellison’s Deathbird would have been a stunning cipher to the mind of a contemporaneous reader of HG Wells’ Scientific Fictions, whereas both vintages of texts are easily read by us). When did young Writers stop being recklessly visionary mountain-climbers? When did they stop being mad scientists, trance-mediums, manifesto-junkies, spell-weaving sickos, inextinguishable heretics and all-around irascible badasses? Flannery O’Connor badass. Milan Kundera badass. When did we stop making those?
Sometimes I think all that quasi-cosmic, pseudo-therapeutic guff we got in the 1960s and 1970s about how bad the Ego is, and how it has to die, has been as disastrous for contemporary Writers as the craze for declawing, defanging and neutering has been for the big cats of certain “safe” circuses and magic acts. And especially for Manhattan’s pathetic house pets.
It’s a Friday night in the 1930s, you just got paid and all you want to do is buy a bottle, take a bath and shine your shoes to go dancing. You can either spend your precious seventy-five cents catching the horripilatingly heal-the-lame Elmore James, the electrifyingly raise-the-dead Charlie Christian… or an act advertized cheerfully as HELPFUL BOB: the most Egoless blues guitarist in town.