A Rant in First Person

I was in Half Price Books a few weeks ago when I ran across a book that looked interesting. However, instead of just grabbing the thing and going to the checkout like I normally do, I decided to check it out of the library instead and it was a great decision.  I really don’t want to go on about how much I didn’t like the thing. I’ve had to write a couple of negative reviews and it’s not something I enjoy. Further, I also didn’t want to finish the thing. It’s a collection of short stories, I got roughly 80 pages into its total of 120-ish pages, and I just don’t have it in me to finish the thing. Not when I had ceased caring about what I was reading and not when I knew that to finish it only meant I would come here to write a negative review of the thing.

I think part of the problem is that I’m just tired of the whiny first person narrative. It’s been one of a number of current works that I have read lately where the story (or stories) are told from the perspective of someone needlessly whiny, where nothing goes right and where life is just oh so unnecessarily hard and they don’t know why. Wah wah wah.

It would be one thing if these narratives had anything more to them, if there was a reason for the character to be so pathetic and thoroughly uninteresting, regardless of what shenanigans the character is up to and what situations they find themselves in but I think I am becoming convinced that the stories of these characters are without meaning because the writers are writing about themselves and they are without meaning. More and more, literature (especially American) reads as if the authors read works from the Beat Generation, got the fact they were writing about themselves, and took nothing else from their works.

And so we have a mountain of writers armed with the simple mantra of writing about themselves and churning out all sorts of creative non-fictional fiction that is just out and out empty and bad. The writer of the stories of which I read 80 pages of went so far as to admit that a few works had been originally published as non-fiction pieces and that the rest of the collection was more memoir than fiction. Except it’s a memoir that read like the most pathetic headlines found in the magazines collected in grocery store checkout aisles.

I remember reading once an author’s reply about why they write and they replied that they live to write. Too much fiction today seems to be a bastardization of this. People lead lives for the express purpose of chronicling themselves rather than just living their lives. At some point your life is no longer your own but just whatever you think will make the next best chapter. You’re not there for yourself, you’re notliving for yourself, you’re living for…what? I, honestly, can’t even imagine except I’m tired of reading the dead, soulless meanderings of it.

This isn’t to say that all first person narratives are bad, even if they are autobiographical. It can be done well. It still is done well. But it also seems like the Ready-Made Section of literature. It’s writing without the heavy lifting, like renovating a kitchen with pre-manufactured countertops and cabinets. It can look alright, plucking these things off the shelf at Lowe’s but they also stand out for being the same basic mediocre things that they are.

Alright, the rant is over. I also just finished a wonderful short story collection called The Lost TIki Palaces of Detroit, it’s something I want to write about but am deciding the form (review the whole thing or story by story? something in-between?). the frustration from the other reading was just overwhelming, though. On to better things.

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2 Responses to “A Rant in First Person”

  1. milkfever Says:

    Do you think that the writing is weak simply because the style has been flogged to death? If you’d not read anything similar before would you have enjoyed it more? Just wondering. It’s amazing how quickly something fresh can go stale.

    • charlieblizz Says:

      I guess it depends what you mean by style. When I first read your comment, I mentally swapped style for form, which I realize could be way off. It could be I just really don’t care for whiny first person narration. There’s no question that I might just be a bit biased with this.

      But, also, the writing just isn’t that great. I read too many of the stories and just can’t help but wonder why the author bothered to write them. Maybe it is snobbish of me but I think good fiction – outside of the page-turner, bestseller variety where expectations are just clearly different – should say more than its most basic story. There should be more to it.

      Instead, I’ve noticed them becoming very repetitive within an author’s work, as one story reads just like another, and they have never really say anything. It’s frustrating. Maybe they would argue that the lack of saying anything is, in fact, something but that sort of argument for a philosophical nothingness is wholly unappealing and seems to run contrary to the artistic creation of anything. After all, isn’t all artistic creation able to be boiled down to the search for something?

      I also think it is likely that there are cultural ties to it. As I noted in the blog, it seems to be something I run across primarily with American writers. Could it be tied into the plethora of creative writing MFA programs available? Or an economic culture that rewards seemingly complex forms that are really nothing more than romances or potboilers? Or is it just Dave Eggers fault for being so damn successful with A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius and its still spawning imitators?

      In the end, I’m not sure.

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