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Sunday, March 25, 2012

Is The Big Book Dead?

On vacation with the inlaws in Florida and stumble over Don DeLillos Underworld in the library of a gated community center where some white guy is singing Louis Armstrong's What a Wonderful World and the Greatest Generation is applauding like mad and there is DeLillos monster novel among all the John LeCarre/Grisham debris and my thought is well at least it is some literature with a capital L among the slickies and the mystery novels the Greatest Generation prefers along with their Phantom of the Opera (which is what the one man show is ending up with) and so I grab it and head out into the warm night.

I had read White Noise a while back and couldn't stay with it. It felt dated and sort of turgid like a heavy car trying to get up a hill. But I wanted to take a crack at Underworld because I was writing a Big Novel myself and this was a Big Novel and my thought was there should be something here for one Big Novel man to instruct another Big Novel man fifteen years later. So I read the first chapter and it was entertaining and sprawling and big and had everything but the kitchen sink and of course DeLillo is a good writer and this is a big swipe at American life...but it felt, ultimately, like a big old building that had seen better days and better times.

And part of this is I am not a fan of post modern fiction ala DeLillo. It is just too big. Too... look how much I can write and how well I can write. I don't find this with Franzen novels. They are big but they don't feel like they take up a city block. Don DeLillo is the appointed great writer so you can see him writing like a great writer and building these monstrous novels, but I guess my question is do we care about Big Novels anymore? I mean do we really want to invest all this time in this Titanic that lumbers across the sea when in fact we could probably get across in a smaller sleeker boat?

I like to think the Big Novel is still relevant and Franzen gives me heart because his novels don't feel like a big lumbering whale although they are long. But there is something very immediate and and that saves them from the DeLillo big novel fate. And maybe this is unfair because Don's novel  is fifteen years old and it does feel like one of those books you find in the attic and you stare at the wall of prose read this...all of this! Or maybe it is  just the Mailer big foot white male writer time has passed.

I dunno...but I think I'm going to put Don back in the Community Center because I am only here a week and that is not enough for a Big Novel. Maybe Louis will be playing again and maybe I can find something shorter among the literature of the Greatest Generation. Probably not.

Books by William Hazelgrove