Genre Fiction & The Relentless Undead

One of the interesting questions at play in my dissertation is the way treat genre writers differently from “real” writers. Authors like Michael Chabon, Thomas Pynchon and Cormac McCarthy straddle the boundaries between “literary” fiction and different genre styles in interesting ways. There’s a great article in this weeks Sunday Times Magazine discussing Jack Vance, an apparently seminal genre writer whom I never read in all my years as a genre bookworm. According to the article Vance (and many other genre writers, I think) approached fiction as a job and a career as much as an art form. Vance and his wife would travel to exotic places, find a cheap hotel, and draft a new novel together. Nice life! That kind of commercial focus is much less acceptable among “serious” novelists.

While we’re on the subject, I will now publicly admit that I recently read Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, probably the most violent fictional assault to date on the barriers dividing highbrow and pulp. My wife quite accurately calls it an “abomination.” I think she’s serious, but when I repeat it, I mean it in a good way. I would like to share my favorite paragraph here. See if you can tell what was changed from the original Austen:

But why Mr. Darcy came so often to the Parsonage, it was more difficult to understand. It could not be for society, as he frequently sat there ten minutes together without opening his lips; and when he did speak, it seemed the effect of necessity rather than of choice. He seldom appeared really animated, even at the sight of Mrs. Collins gnawing upon her own hand. What remained of Charlotte would liked to have believed this change the effect of love, and the object of that love her friend Eliza. She watched him whenever they were at Rosings, and whenever he came to Hunsford; but without much success, for her thoughts often wandered to other subjects, such as the warm, succulent sensation of biting into a fresh brain. Mr. Darcy certainly looked at her friend a great deal, but the expression of that look was disputable. It was an earnest, steadfast gaze, but she often doubted whether there were much admiration in it, and sometimes it seemed nothing but absence of mind. And upon imagining Mr. Darcy’s mind, her thoughts would again turn to the subject of chewing on his salty, cauliflower-like brain.

2 thoughts on “Genre Fiction & The Relentless Undead”

  1. hey- i saw a review of pynchon's latest book in The New Yorker and thought of you, since (sadly) i hadn't heard of pynchon except via your blog 🙂

    hope the thesis writing is going well! i think i'm probably stuck in school for about 2 more years before i finish

    love, your cousin, susanna

  2. Hey Susanna,

    Well, I think I'm going to be in school for another year or two myself. I hope your program is going well! I'm still not sure how I feel about your LCROSS associates blowing up part of the moon but I guess it's for a good cause.

    Ach, Pynchon. By at least one of my measures, his relative star power is declining. Sad news for me and for him! If you're looking for an incredibly long, rather difficult and most strange book to read, you might enjoy his novel Mason & Dixon. Lots of astronomy and optics.


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