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Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Informational Novel

Jonathan Franzen's new novel from the reviews I have read would seem to have the same scope as The Corrections. His novels seem to encompass the world at large and we are fairly bombed with information on a wide range of subjects. The late David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest comes to mind as another informational novel. Both men have encyclopedic intellects that dump out facts and figures in computer jet streams. Science is important to both authors  and so is technology and we get lots and lots of information.

This doesn't mean there is not emotional underpinning to these novels. But in the case of The Corrections it seemed the novel shifted from an emotional novel in the beginning to an informational one in the middle and then back again. Franzen has wide knowledge and I really enjoy his essays. But it is interesting that in the age of the Internet we seem to have our top novelists painting a wide canvas of intellectual treatises on wide ranging subjects that at time feel more like non fiction than fiction.

The novels of old were more concerned with the existential moment or at least the emotional moment. Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Kerouac, Faulkner, none of these men really moved out of the small canvas novel.  They would stay in a world and we were expected to learn from a much smaller microcosm. Nick Carraways' world in The Great Gatsby while the world of 1920's jazz age was really confined to his fixation on Gatsby and the personal moment. Fitzgerald never ventures out to the tight emotional cage if you will of his characters. Same with Hemingway. In For Whom the Bell Tolls, Robert Jordan's world is limited to what he feels and sees and experiences in the caves of Spain.

Maybe it is the difference between post modern and modern, but I suspect it is also a result of our information age. Information is king now. We want  more and more of it and so our novelists seem to give us the big canvas. But if fiction reveals the irony of truth, are we throwing out the baby with the bath water as our world shrinks a little more with our denotative bits and bytes? Fiction, after all, should be a flight into the other world of the road not the least it shouldn't be grounded by our information age.

William Hazelgrove's latest novel Rocket Man is due out in September. The story of a man who moves to the suburbs and loses his mind.

Books by William Hazelgrove