I came across this blog post earlier today. Molly Flatt covered a speech by Lev Grossman (@leverus) at the Oxford Literary Festival in which he focused on genre versus literary fiction. He traced the division of fiction into literary fiction and genre, and he explained the various institutions that reinforced this division over time. He then went on to say this division is crumbling. Big names within the world of literary fiction are writing novels that contain elements of fantasy, and these books get a lot of attention. And Grossman contended that the big names within literary fiction who refuse to explore fantasy are being left behind.
Grossman argued that we are in a fantasy boom. I see it as a two-pronged boom. One the one hand, literary fiction writers are going fantasy. See, for example, the popularity of books such as Colson Whitehead’s Zone One. On the other prong, fans of fantasy may seek out novels of a more literary bent to try something new and original.
I can see the appeal of mixed genres, due to the originality they often bring to a story; pure literary fiction may seem boring in comparison. It certainly doesn’t help that literary fiction giant Jonathan Franzen has been on a tear, criticizing much of modernity, such as Twitter, the internet, ebooks, and smartphones. He risks alienating many readers with such arguments.
I would love to see genre novels move out of the ghetto and be appreciated by a wider audience. But, and maybe it’s the pessimist in me, I wonder if we might be headed towards a genre bubble instead. Looking around at the rehashing of period novels to include zombies and vampires and the number of creatures appearing on TV and in theaters, I can’t help but wonder. Might we be reaching peak creature? Is fantasy headed for a fall? Maybe it’s just the bad coming along with the good. Or maybe it’s the beginning of the end for genre stories. Only time will tell.