Dude lit

By Maria Russo

By Salon Staff
July 17, 2000 11:31PM (UTC)
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Maria Russo's article on what she charmingly euphemized as "dude lit" brought out some of the issues that are making a number of writers -- and readers -- despair. Publishing houses seem to believe that the kind of extended, self-aggrandizing, fragmentary rambles Russo describes are the be-all and end-all of "serious fiction." ("Trade fiction," on the other hand, would be, of course, big novels about rural mothers whose children are kidnapped but who work things out with the help of their grandmother's ghost and fall in love with the tough, craggy sheriff who rescues the kids from a serial killer. See under "Oprah's Book Club.")

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Whom do I blame for the epidemic of "dick lit?" Well, the University of Iowa for one -- Frank Conroy was one of the original literary dicks, and though "Stop Time" is one of the most delicately realized memoirs ever, Conroy is overly flattered by even the lamest imitation from his writing-program students. The amazing (and inexplicable) success of Nick Hornby and Martin Amis must, of course, be part of the mystery.

At the heart of it, though, is a simple truth. Editors like what they know. Reviewers like what they know. Most junior editors at major publishing houses are neurotic, self-obsessed, overeducated suburban white people between 25 and 45. Is it any wonder they buy books about people like them? Is it any wonder that their Ivy League classmates, who write the reviews of these books (and who are courted aggressively by book publicists who are themselves Gen X Ivy Leaguers) love these books?

Of course, the best way for any of these dickliterateurs to make a splash would have been to call their tomes "Harry Potter and the Vague Feeling of Despair."

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-- Julia Sullivan

Are we actually supposed to expect something more insightful from male writers who live in the age of magazines like Maxim? The shallow and perpetually immature characters which inhabit this type of fiction are mere products of what their creators, as men in their 20s and 30s in the year 2000, are being told about men: images in movies, television, magazines and film seem to define what today's younger males think about themselves, women, etc. Whereas so many younger women seem to finally be breaking free from the constraining shackles of the media (thus, you get "Bridget Jones" and "Sex and the City"), men have allowed themselves to be emotionally and creatively castrated by what a magazine like Maxim tells them about themselves. Thus, not surprisingly, you get a batch of writers like those in this piece.

-- Kim Hoge


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