Russell Banks, Ignoramus
In the January 2nd (on line publication date)issue of the New York Times Sunday Book Review, author Russell Banks was interviewed in the "By The Book" column. I was led to the article by the Times' blurb, which read: 'The author, most recently, of “A Permanent Member of the Family” steers clear of any book described as fantasy, “which to me says, ‘Don’t worry, Reader, Death will be absent here.’ ” '
My immediate response was, "Say what?" and I went on to read:
' And how would you describe the kinds of books you steer clear of?
Anything described by the author or publisher as fantasy, which to me says, “Don’t worry, Reader, Death will be absent here.” In his brief introduction to “Slow Learner,” Thomas Pynchon says he takes serious writing to be that in which Death is present. I agree." '
Such arrogance and ignorance in any writer of the current day is shocking. This is the kind of thing I heard from many of my English professors in the late 1970's, who asserted that science-fiction and fantasy were frivolous and unworthy of serious consideration, while teaching us that "The Canterbury Tales" (which includes talking chickens and magical Green Knights), "A Midsummer Night's Dream," (ooh, faeries!), and the works of Edgar Allen Poe, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Washington Irving were masterpieces of literature.
Can it be possible that Mr. Banks, in this day and age, knows nothing about "The Lord of the Rings"? That (spoiler alert!) Boromir, Theoden, and Gollum are only odd-sounding names to him? What cave does he live in that mention at least of the televised version of "A Game of Thrones" hasn't come to his ears, let alone no word of Martin's even more death-haunted novels?
What, indeed, can his idea of "fantasy" possibly be? What fantasy works are out there that are so cottony-cushion that the shadow of death doesn't enter in? Even in works in which no one actually dies (or at least no "good guys"), like, oh, "The Tale of Peter Rabbit," or "Peter Pan," the danger of death is real and present.
I haven't yet read any of Mr. Banks' books, so can't comment on their literary merit. Wikipedia notes "Many of Banks's works reflect his working-class upbringing. His stories often show people facing tragedy and downturns in everyday life, expressing sadness and self-doubt, but also showing resilience and strength in the face of their difficulties." And "Many have admired Russell Banks' form of realistic writing. His writing often complements and/or explores modern American ways. Reviewers have written appreciatively of his portrayal of the working-class people, struggling to overcome some of the issues they are faced with such as destructive relationships, poverty, drug abuse, and spiritual confusion."
If these are correct, I have an idea where the problem may lie. It appears that he may be one of those authors that pride themselves their work is grounded in the "real world" and deal with "real people" and "real issues," as though their characters were actually any more real than Bilbo or Frodo, who "show... resilience and strength in the face of their difficulties." If you described the characters of "A Song of Ice and Fire" as "struggling to overcome some of the issues they are faced with such as destructive relationships, poverty, drug abuse, and spiritual confusion," wouldn't that be perfectly true?
It's certainly valid for an author to prefer his own style of work (in this case "literary fiction") over others, but not to just casually diss entire other genres, particularly based on a standard that is both arbitrary and erroneous.
Full interview found here: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/05/books/review/russell-banks-by-the-book.html?pagewanted=1&&%2359;_r=0&%2359;nl=books&%2359;emc=edit_bk_20140103This entry was originally posted at http://sinister-sigils.dreamwidth.org/248553.html. Please comment there using OpenID.