Is the title of the opening salvo in Michael Chabon’s collection of essays, Maps and Legends. Chabon spoke this week in a panel discussion titled ‘On Genre’ at the British Library before the awarding of the Folio Prize. Chabon is an engaging, witty speaker and his rebuttal of genre-based writerly insecurity ‘Winning the Pulitzer was very reassuring’ was masterful. I really recommend the book and the opening essay to all writers (and readers) inclined toward the fantastic.
The Folio Prize was awarded to George Saunders, a writer of dark, satirical, musings on contemporary America. Saunders’ work is set in a dystopian near-future or alternative present, drifting to hell on a tide of consumerism and pop-culture. Somewhere in the midst of all of this, a person tries, in their own way, to do the right thing.
Rereading Chabon’s essay several years on it seems almost prescient.
Entertainment has a bad name. Serious people learn to mistrust and even to revile it. The word wears spandex, pasties, a leisure suit studded with blinking lights. it gives off a whiff of Coppertone and dripping Creamsicle, the fake-butter miasma of a movie-house lobby…It skirts the black heart of life and drowns life’s lambency in a halogen glare. Intelligent people…must handle the things that entertain them with gloves of irony and postmodern tongs.
So far so George Saunders, no?
Chabon goes on to defend the writing of fiction ‘on the borderlands’ between literature and genre, citing Vonnegut, Pynchon, Borges, Calvino and others as novelists working as ‘tricksters’ disguising their ‘real’ literary worth in a suit of lights and mentions Kelly Link and Aimee Bender among short story writers in the same vein.
Trickster haunts the boundary lines, the margins, the secret shelves between the sections in the bookstore. And that is where, if it wants to renew itself in the way that the novel has done so often in its long history, the short story must inevitably go.
Congratulations to George Saunders, winner of not only the Folio Prize but of the (entirely fictitious) Spec Sisters Trickster in a Suit of Lights award. Your prizes (a lifetime supply of toxic factory-produced glow sticks and the ghost of William Shakespeare) are on their way.