So, only 11 years later, Granta will publish its second “Best of Young American Novelists” issue. Despite claims that the list carries a lot less weight now than it did (“The novel has become like landscape painting,” sniffs an editor at FSG), there’s bound to be plenty of talk about what the composition of the list “means”–other than the fact that it’s a list of really good writers who might have some books you want to read. And here they are:
Jonathan Safran Foer
The Guardian (“Once upon a time in America…” by Ed Pilkington) profiles a half-dozen of the above, while in the Los Angeles Times (“In these new American stories, the world speaks“) Scott Timberg gets a pretty good tennis match going, asking “Are stories of transnational identity where the literary action is these days?”
“All of us agreed on one thing,” Ian Jack, the magazine’s editor wrote in the issue’s introduction. “Ethnicity, migration and ‘abroad’ had replaced social class as a source of tension…. “
A teammate, who coincidentally shares an office with Gabe Hudson, one of the listed, concurs:
Novelist Edmund White, one of the judges, referred in his notes on the list to “what might be called the Peace Corps novel, written about the encounter of the young, privileged American with the developing world.”
Laura Miller thinks the new trend isn’t as significant as it sounds:
“Writing about immigrants saves you from having to write about mass culture,” a topic literary writers, young or white or ethnic or otherwise, generally fear.
And Meghan O’Rourke thinks that, in focusing on multiculturalism instead of class experience, young novelists are missing the story:
O’Rourke, for instance, noted that the U.S. is increasingly economically polarized, but the young writers she read didn’t seem particularly interested.
But Jack points out a perfectly logical reason that this is so:
“To go through this process of creative writing schools, now, to become a budding novelist, more and more means you need a certain amount of ancestral wealth. I hate to sound like a Marxist, but economics does govern a lot of life, especially cultural life.”
Not that you can generalize too much about the work of 21 talented young writers, but still. Way back up at the top of his article, Timberg parenthetically points out a class and cultural divide that certainly deserves an article of its own:
(Some things seem never to change, though: More than half of the chosen writers live in New York City, and the only Southland writer is Maile Meloy, who lives in Los Angeles.)
A move to New York City has certainly improved the quality of many writers’ work. Or, failing that, the visibility.