Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The First Person Narrative Crisis

For almost a year now, I’ve had the pleasure of reviewing books for both The Sacramento Book Review and the San Francisco Book Review and as is the case with a book reviews, the subject has been newly released books. While I’ve always tried to pay attention to newly released literature, prior to doing these reviews, I often skipped around, reading classics and recommendations from others mixed in with anything new I might find.

Reading almost all new releases now I’ve begun to notice quite a few of the trends in the publishing industry, some good and some bad. The most obvious ones, however, are the bad trends and perhaps the absolute worst trend of them all seems to be one of the most prevalent.

I’m speaking of the rash of first person narratives where the main character is a very thinly veiled view of what the author wishes he or she could be. These writers create characters that are practically superhero in nature. Oh, they have flaws of course but they are the kind of flaws you might tell a prospective interviewer in a job interview. I work too hard! I’m too conscientious. Dammit, I just care too much!

Aside from those “weaknesses” the character is virtually without blemish. They are almost never the supermodel type or the movie hunk because the writer cannot make that connection to themselves honestly. Instead, they are the kind of average that seemingly no person of the opposite sex can resist. Sure, he’s got a beer belly, but the most beautiful woman in every room is somehow drawn to him like a moth to a flame. No, you won’t find her in the pages of Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition but every man wants her and every woman wants to be like her.

Novel after novel comes out reading like bad fan fiction and instead of slowing down, it seems to be gaining steam. This can only mean one thing: You people are buying it! There’s always been a place in the world for trashy literature. There’s nothing wrong with it. We all have our guilty pleasure reads but at least there used to be some standards involved in even trash lit. No more!

I recently reviewed a book where it seemed like not a single page went by where the author didn’t remind us that her main character (who is not her, she’ll swear to it I’m sure) was beautiful, smart, funny, tougher than the guys, wanted by everyone, admired by all and the perfect woman. This writer was so busy trying to convince her audience of the character’s divinity that she completely forgot to include a plot, or a single other character in the book who was more than one-dimensional. It was like the book itself was background on a stage somewhere, meant only to add color to solitary performer giving a soliloquy.

It was the worst of all of these self-indulgent personal fantasies I’ve read to date and the sad part is that the writer has already written two follow up books. Its going to be a series! But that shouldn’t surprise me. The very first book I reviewed for the papers was about a chubby guy who worked as an accountant and became the greatest monster hunter of all time—and of course got the girl as well. The next book in that series is due out any time. At least this particular author thought to include a little plot along with the self-glorification of his alter-ego.

Just like the Twilight saga made frumpy girls cool, these books, one after another, relentlessly expose us to characters whose flaws are actually good qualities that most people aren’t bright enough to see. Those picked last for dodge ball in gym class and those who didn’t get asked to prom are armed with keyboards, no talent and something to prove and the result are these stories where the characters have no arc and the plot exists only to serve the glorification of the main character.

And it’s only getting worse. More talented writers are being skipped over to fuel this trend where hacks with issues get published. I say enough! If you want to work your issues out then find a shrink and pay by the hour like the rest of the world, don’t subject me to your delusions of grandeur. Shame on the publishers for putting this crap out there and shame on you, most of all, for continuing to read it. As long as copies keep flying off the shelves they’ll keep printing more and more of this compost. It’s time to stand up to these sad people. Demand multiple characters with depth and arc throughout the story. Demand a plot that serves more than as scenery for the writer’s self-glorification. Demand some quality in your books, even the trashy ones.

If you don’t, soon enough, self-indulgent, self-serving books like these that exist to build the writer’s self-esteem will be all that’s left to read. I’m not exaggerating. With each month, more and more of these books hit the shelves and they will continue to do so until you say no.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Yes! I want a good read without having to get past the ego of the writer! You said it well.