A significant part of me wants to agree, unreservedly, with Stephen Marche, and his rant against CanLit. (link) But I’ve read a bunch of versions of such rants before, and so, at the very least, the novelty factor has evaporated for me. I hope Nathan Whitlock over at [TK] has the time to interrogate Marche’s rage thoroughly. For now, I offer a few, polite bullet points.
* If Brooklyn does it better, then stay in Brooklyn. I’m not being glib when I type this. I mean it. Both of Marche’s books have been reviewed in the New York Times Book Review. If Canada isn’t willing to celebrate him, then move to NY permanently, cause Canada ain’t changing anytime soon.
* The entire major prize scene for CanLit is a rickety hunk of crap that cannot be trusted to dole out awards based on merit. Kinda like the Oscars. I realize that in terms of recognition and sales, it’s all fiction writers in this country have, but you can’t be shocked (shocked!) to discover reverse ageism in the Gillers. It is disingenuous for someone as smart as Marche to suggest otherwise.
* McSweeney’s has done as much good as it has done bad. I haven’t read either McSweeney’s or the Believer for a long time. I’m glad they exist, but I’m even gladder I don’t have to read them anymore.
* There is more innovation in CanLit then Marche gives credit to (Coach House, and, um, Coach House). It’s just that innovation isn’t always linked with recognition and sales and big prizes. Sometimes the reward of being innovative is the knowledge that you’re being innovative.
* Foer’s second book was horrible. Really horrible. Innovation by itself is not necessarily a useful virtue.
* Although it is lame to rebut an argument by coming up with an example that runs counter to the rant, I will point out that there is a man named Douglas Coupland who publishes fiction in this country. As I understand, he sells more than a few copies of each of his novels. While perhaps he isn’t Foer or Franzen, he isn’t Atwood either.
* Most interesting sentence to build a fresh argument around: “The question is really whether CanLit as a phenomenon is more than one generation long.” Now there is a question worth answering. That grabbed me. There is a good thesis for a future essay.
* I enjoyed the part where Marche attacks the Gillers and CBC for being too boomer-centric, but omits the part where Heather O’Neill won the CBC Canada Reads competition. Whoops.
* Also, attacking the boomers is the worst type of straw man argument. It was valid nine years ago. Now it doesn’t ring true for me.
There are a tremendous number of things that are not right with fiction in this country. But I think we can debate these wrongs in a more effective way. I agree with Marche in principle, but not with the way he has decided to argue his points. Both of his books have received plenty of attention, and both were published by major publishing houses. He’s very young (31!) and very talented. He’ll get his Giller nod one day, hopefully on his own terms. But for now, be patient Marche.