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Literary Fiction

There was a time, undergrad degree clenched tightly in my fist, literary criticism terms floating untethered through my every thought, when I loved literary fiction.

I don’t mean fiction that is literature, I mean Literary in the postmodern, smugly self-aware, consciously playing with literature and language sense.

Somewhere along the way, I lost all patience with this style of writing. Especially the self-aware bit.

So those of you who have already read Jenny Hubbard’s Paper Covers Rock will not be surprised that I had some difficulty with the novel.

I’ve tried. Oh, how I’ve tried. For two months, this is the book I’ve been reading between and in the midst of other, less aggravating books. I want to like it: it’s a boy’s boarding school story, and I often love that designation (A Separate Peace was a long time favorite). It’s short, and I’ve had the kind of fall where short books are a joy because I get to read them fast, so I can usually finish them before the flaws catch up to me. It’s got the tantalizing possibility of a teacher-student love story, which has held an icky sort of fascination since I came of age singing “Don’t Stand so Close to Me.”

[Read more…]

Date Rape, Siblings, and the New Problem Novel

You Against Me is a fine novel, in the non-pejorative sense of fine. It is finely detailed, even nuanced, story about family and what happens when bad things derail the complacency and blindness of a family.

It’s also the second book I’ve read in 2011 alone in which a sibling response to an alleged date rape is a central component: back in February, verse novel Exposed by Kimberly Marcus hit the stands.

Exposed hasn’t been mentioned over here before, although it too is a fine novel, this time admittedly in the damning with faint praise sense. It did quite well in my library, because it’s short and tight and while it has nothing hugely remarkable to recommend itself, it does what it sets out to do very well. Because really, what it is is a problem novel. Like Ellen Hopkins’s books, or Sarah Dessen’s, or Patty McCormick’s, it provides palatable (not sweetened) access to a difficult subject, and it’s fairly straightforward (verse format notwithstanding.)

You Against Me covers much of the same territory, except that in addition to the rapist’s sister, we also get the victim’s brother, a double whammy treatise on masculinity, and a star-crossed love (between the two siblings). And I found myself thinking that this seemed like trying to make a silk purse from a sow’s ear. In many ways, this passes as a silk purse. Downham has an astounding ear for dialogue (caveat: I speak American, the characters speak English. So it might play differently across the pond). She has a deft touch with her examination of gender and class. But in the end, it read a little too much like a problem novel gussied up, and I’m not sure that dressing up is enough to make this stand out in the year. [Read more…]