Sunday, May 3, 2009

Lit Fic and the Literary Nebula

lit fic--the nickname given to literary fiction; stories and novels with an emphasis on characters as they cope with moral questions rather than following plots dictated by genre fiction conventions.

The arena of literary fiction is a confusing but worthwhile one to enter, leaving the writer to make individual choices as the ideas arrive, or leaving the bookstore manager to decide where to shelve it and the writer to write it. Colm Toibin's 2009 novel Brooklyn could be classified as lit fic because of the respect with which he portrays a mother and her two daughters; it could also be classified as a bildungsroman because the youngest daughter, the protagonist, does "come of age" and in the process gets an aching sense of which life would be best for her, the small-town Irish town of her birth, or the Brooklyn her sister has arranged for her to move to.

Any number of literary writers have been attracted to genre fiction, adapting literary techniques to help them explore the potential of genre fiction. Joyce Carol Oates, for instance, has written romances and mysteries along with her literary work. John Banville has undertaken a mystery series after having finished a novel that won the Mann Booker Prize, and Denis Johnson, after having won the 2007 National Book Award, has published Nobody Move, a mischievous take on the noir, hardboiled crime novels of the 1940s and '50s. And remember Graham Greene, who called certain of his novels "thrillers," as though he were abdicating some literary kingship.

Add to the mixture the fact of the increased number of graduate-level writing programs, and the effects on readers, writers, and publishers of so-called YA or young adult fiction, factors that may seem unrelated but which contain similar degrees of investigation and honesty in their depictions of humanity at work.

Lit fic, accordingly, is the result of the writer carefully and deliberately choosing characters who best represent the issues the writer wishes to deal with, then peeling with care the onion of discovery.

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