Contemporary fiction: The death of the Red-Hot Center

By Laura Miller

By Salon Staff
Published August 15, 2000 7:33PM (EDT)

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White men and those who think like them: Get over yourselves. Today, the most talented writers are Toni Morrison and Gabriel Garcma Marquez. A black woman and a Hispanic man. How dare you put these Nobel- and Pulitzer Prize-winning writers in the same breath as Raymond Carver or David Foster Wallace?

I thoroughly enjoy Wallace, Cheever, Updike and even Mailer (when he's willing to write for purposes other than satiating his monstrous ego). But while I enjoy these quirky, ivy talents I can discern their wit from Marquez's genius, just like I can tell the difference between a sirloin burger and a steak. You're comparing McDonald's with fine dining, and all because the best now happens to be in an ethnic neighborhood. Sherman Alexie, Isabel Allende, Alice Walker -- the list goes on and on. But these authors sell because they have staying power outside of Manhattan cocktail parties and Cambridge, Mass., coffee houses. These authors have a sense of what's going on in America. The great American books have been written -- just not by the people you want them to be.

-- Aurin Squire

Instead of making a cohesive, well thought-out argument against the merit of Alice Walker's literary career, Laura Miller only succeeds in making it painfully clear that she has zero understanding of the delicate layers of Walker's voice. Passages in masterpieces like "Temple of My Familiar" are meant to be savored and digested slowly so the full body of her words can be understood and appreciated. If Miller wants something more direct perhaps she should stick to the trite, dead-white-guy tomes with the quick-hit nihilism and requisite self-aggrandizing diatribes.

Miller's remarks like, "No other author demonstrates more emphatically how a merely adequate novelist can enjoy a thriving career by appealing to a readership almost entirely outside the core audience for literary fiction" were merely condescending. This only further demonstrated Miller's lack of knowledge of Walker's appeal and range. If one assumes that "readerships almost entirely outside the core audience for literary fiction" would be African-Americans, Miller has obviously never attended one of Walker's standing-room-only readings where the audience is comprised of mostly white bibliophiles (maybe Miller stumbled into an E. Lynn Harris revival instead).

But the review's real problem was in trying to diminish Walker's contributions by labeling her work as simply "black" fiction. Closing out this essay with a painfully limited roundup of "black" writers who offer what Miller obviously considers a more palatable and reader-friendly discussion of the black experience was just plain sad.

-- Angela Burt-Murray

Surely Andrew O'Hehir must have been joking when he compared schlockmeister Stephen King to Charles Dickens.

I will admit to avidly reading every new King novel as soon as it came out while I was a teenager. But that was back in the days before King turned into a self-important artiste who refused to allow editors to touch his overwritten (and overwrought) books. Try reading his "Tommyknockers" without reaching a point where you want to scream, "I get that this character is struggling with alcoholism. Now quit using up three or four pages to describe how much he wants a drink!"

King's endless repetition is bad enough, but his blatant homophobia is sickening. Take his "Needful Things," where the only two gay characters just happen to be child-molesting educators. Or "The Stand," in which a lesbian is a hero only because she throws herself out a window rather than submit to the villain. And then there's "Gerald's Game" (the last book of King's I will ever read), where the grave-robbing necrophiliac is described as only wanting male corpses. Let's face it, King can reach a wider audience with anti-gay messages and stereotypes than a year's worth of Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell broadcasts.

Frankly, King's only talent these days is an endless variety of self-promotion stunts. A successor to Dickens? Yeah, right! King is to 20th century American literature what a paint-by-numbers set is to the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.

-- Van Buckley

I seriously doubt King will be considered to have the same respectability as Dickens in the future as King is a hack. He doesn't know how or when to end his books and falls back on the same trite endings every time. If brevity is the soul of wit, King is witless.

-- Stefan Krzywicki

People are surprised when they hear I'm a closet Stephen King fan. But it's fascinating to read what King has written about the craft of writing in the horror genre (e.g. his essays in "Bare Bones"). As a reader, I am always grateful for his ability to make me turn the page. The first obligation of a writer is to absorb the reader. Everything else is just icing.

-- Ann Lynott

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