Excited, but not to a Grave-Dancing degree
In ’08 when I got a galley of Reality Hunger, it was pretty clear that the book was going to rouse a little rabble when it came out. After I read it for a grad school class, I invited David to speak on a panel discussion I was putting together and I got to speak to him a little about the book and later did an interview. David also asked me to ferry a copy of the book out to the iceberg where Zadie Smith lives to hand a copy of the book to Zadie Smith, who was teaching at my university that year. I managed to get it the book into her hands, albeit blushing heavily. (I do admire her, despite suspecting her blood might run metallic and cold.) My bet was that she was going to enjoy the manifesto, though not necessarily agree with its every platitude.
When Zadie’s strange review in The Guardian came out, I was surprised to have been mentioned in it as the “excited American writing student,” and the implication that my peers and I are dancing on the grave of the novel. (I would link to the article but it’s not up on their site anymore. Here’s something I wrote about it a while ago.) In fact, Professor Smith, I am not dancing on the grave of anything, especially not the novel.
So after reading Zadie’s essay, Lincoln Michel’s really smart review on The Rumpus and Sam Anderson’s funny but annoyed review in New York Magazine, I feel like I need to say something in Reality Hunger’s defense.
Yes, I enjoyed Reality Hunger, but it pissed me off a good deal and I found myself arguing with it. I like to think that I won some of the arguments, but I lost others. My previously held opinions were either strengthened by having to mentally defend them or changed by finding myself defenseless. In the end the work actually made me more excited about the future of the novel than ever before. To me, the book is very encouraging of the myriad possibilities of the novel. True, Shields is not so into straightforward narratives, and true, most of us still (more or less) are. But don’t let that one idea stop you from reading this book. It might make you come up with a more solid manifesto of your own.
Or, if you prefer, go ahead and fill a casket with all your dog-eared paperbacks and do the tootsie roll on the lid.