Hey, here’s a new take on the “Is _____ dead?” thing that shambles back around every now and then: novels! Novels are dying now, too! Welcome to the club, novels. Let me show you around: the poets are over there, making fun of the playwrights, and this chest of drawers here is where we keep the printers and bookbinders. If you want to find a small bookstore owner, you might try down on “Obsolescence Way” where they tend to hang out around a remainder bin. Copyeditors you can find anywhere. They’re like stray cats.
If you admire fiction and consider it at its best richer than philosophy and novelists as the true historians of the present, but, like me, find yourself easily resisting contemporary novels, the reason, I believe, is that recent novels no longer do many of the things that once made them so glorious. They want a certain weight, gravity, seriousness that has marked the best fiction over the centuries. They have turned away from telling grand stories issuing onto great themes. Some may admire the cleverness or the sensitivity of certain living novelists, but none seems as God-like in his or her omniscience and evocative power as the great Russian or Victorian or French or American novelists of the 19th and early 20th centuries. Art, we know, is not on the same onward and upward progress curve as science and technology, but might it, in the novel, be demonstrably regressing?