Friday, April 28, 2006

Ten is the safest age

A fascinating piece by Jo Craven McGinty at the New York Times, about patterns that emerge from New York City's murder victims and murderers over the last three years.

I love crime fiction, but I realized a long time ago I was never going to be able to write a straight-up crime novel--I don't approve, really (on account of basic lack of realism), of the kind where a private investigator ends up involved with a murder, and I am way too far removed from the milieu of homicide detectives or for that matter career criminals to do good "life of crime" type writing. I aim to make an attempt one day at some more female-noir-type crime writing (bad things happen inside families), but I have a feeling it's likely to turn into something a little less orthodox--like this idea I have about the animal-shape-changer in Upper Manhattan.

I'm not sure what responsibility the crime writer has to reality. I'm reminded of a talk I heard Cynthia Ozick give this past fall, and in fact I'm just going to paste in what I wrote then (the talk was called "The Rights of Imagination and the Rights of the History," and in it she made the counterintuitive claim--counterintuitive for a novelist, that is--that history is superior to fiction and that in certain circumstances fiction is indeed morally unredeemable; her examples concern failures of representation in Sophie's Choice and The Reader):

I think that as a writer or a literary critic you're better off critiquing books on the kind of evidence we deal with well (close reading, choices to do with plot and endings and argument) rather than this almost statistical argument about representation. (Ozick objects--I'm slightly simplifying her argument, but not by much--to Styron's choice to represent the suffering of a Polish Catholic in Auschwitz when only 5% of the victims were Polish Catholics, or to Schlink's decision to represent a female prison guard as illiterate when German society of the 1930s had very high literacy rates.) I asked a question afterwards that introduced an oblique analogy to put pressure on where this line of thought takes you--is it fair, then, to argue that people shouldn't write serial-killer thrillers because most women and children are killed by people they know & this covers up violence against women?

It happens that I have no problem with people writing serial-killer thrillers (well, in general of course I believe that people should write what they like, your imagination runs along certain lines and you will not do well to wrench it away from them), and yet it does start to seem odd if the preponderance of books published in a certain genre (one whose literary protocols tend to be fairly realistic, moreover) come to seem so much at odds with the patterns in reality.

No comments:

Post a Comment