Friday, February 15, 2008

Silly CNN

From a CNN article about John Grisham:

Reviews of "The Appeal" have been generally positive, though some can be reduced to previous assessments of Grisham: fine storyteller but not a particularly good writer.

"The Appeal" is Grisham's newest book. He's appealingly (heh) humble in the article, talking about how he doesn't expect his work to be treated as fine literature. The alternative, he seems to say, is the label "popular fiction." But I don't see the logic here. Is a story not "fine literature" because it's popular? Does popularity negate quality?

I'm not saying that John Grisham is my hero, but "fine storyteller but not a particularly good writer" doesn't makes sense. The medium that he tells stories through is writing. If he's good at telling stories in writing, doesn't that make him a good writer?

1 comment:

Phaedrus said...

While you can say that a story can be popular because it is fine literature, I don't think the inverse is so. What makes a novel, for example, fine literature is its ability to transcend time (in a generational sense). To Kill A Mocking Bird or The Great Gatsby (the two leading candidates for "The Great American Novel") are both as socially relevant and applicable today as they were at the respective times they were written.

While I am a huge fan of Grisham (I must admit he is about the only contemporary writer that I can stand to read), I do not think that his books have the transcendental quality necessary to classify them as literature. Moreover, they lack even elementary literary devices, techniques, and elements that are taught in the most basic literature courses. (E.g., allegory, poetic meter, paradox, to name a few). While Grisham does great justice to the art of story telling-and some literary elements may be inherent (e.g, irony, mood, hyperbole, etc.)- his art cannot measure up to contemporary works worthy of being called literature.

I think a good comparison are the novella noir authors: Dashiel Hammett (author of Red Harvest, The Maltese Falcon, The Dain Curse), Raymond Chandler (The Big Sleep, Lady in the Lake), and James M. Cain (The Postman Always Rings Twice, Double Indemnity). Much like Grisham, these were vastly popular novels at the time of publication that were made into popular movies. The noir authors can be distinguished from Grisham by their use of literary methods (supra). The best example is the widespread use of Mise-en-abyme by the noir authors. Or other examples such as a strong Schadenfreude motif, Extenstential themes, or the femme fatale element. Such devices transcend the written page to film (The films also distinguish themselves from other popular films by the use of lighting, camera angle, and having terrible violence that shows suffering- compared to the use of violence without suffering, but with lots of gore that is the trend with most popular films. )

Again, while I like Grisham, I classify him as a storyteller. It seems he focuses on cranking out works rather than agonizing for years to perfect literary minutia (although I will agonize for years over Playing for Pizza).