Sure, everyone knows Hemingway did it. Fitzgerald was a big drunk. Faulkner, forget about it, a total booze hound. The fact is, after two Crown Royal manhattans your average hack can’t write one coherent thought. I am nothing if not your average hack.
Lowering inhibitions, opening pathways in the mind--all of the great things about alcohol that we have come to know and love unfortunately present problems for anything that tasks the body. Drive an automobile while intoxicated and you’ll have cops on a first name basis, lawyers on speed dial. Try writing after a few cocktails and you could be headed for real trouble. Mixed metaphors, run-on sentences, you name it. Sober as a judge I’m not much of a writer; a little tipsy and I come up with a post like this one.
And then I look through this week’s copy of the New Yorker (20 MAR02). The fiction this month is by New Yorker institution, Joyce Carol Oates. Talk about thinking small, talk about minimalist bullshit fiction, this broad wrote the book on petty story lines. Upholstery is the title. True to Oates’ style of high ambition it concerns a quasi rape attempt(?) of a 13 year old girl by an older neighbor man. Stupid men and their stupid penises. More kiddy porn than haute literature, more boring than all get out, more a complete waste of time than you could ever imagine. I couldn’t help but think that, even drunk, I could do better. This is the sort of tripe served up without a hint of irony in classrooms in the best colleges in the country. I shudder to think what literature classes must be like in these days of hyper PC.
The story goes on for a couple thousand words and says nothing. Where is the social relevance in this shit? Where are the big issues being addressed? We are a culture that is being systematically reduced to an ever narrowing catalogue of target markets and Oates can only obsess about childhood sexual fears. She is the Sally Jesse Raphael of American letters. I can see nothing of the society I witness in anything this woman has written in years.
Traditional publishing is dying a not-so-slow death. The New Yorker prints story after story of authors of her ilk, week after week, month after month. The same tales of the banality of the individual’s personal maladjustments. When is our society as a whole ever chronicled in fiction? Why do so few writers step out into the world and hold up a mirror in which we can see ourselves, our collective selves?
So much of what passes for good writing in this country is utterly devoid of ambition. Does Oates really believe that she is addressing an audience bigger than a graduate women’s literature seminar? Is it any wonder that so few people read in this culture? A couple more pieces by this woman and I may give it up myself.