Life isn’t a support system for art. It’s the other way around
On Writing, Stephen King
The simple truth in modern America, men are not as interested in reading fiction as they should be.
Frankly, this is very unfortunate for the mind and spirit of American men. Fiction, since the dawn of mankind, has nurtured men’s souls, provided entertainment and solace in meager times. It has been an outlet for the myriad of emotions and thoughts men have. The ability to suspend disbelief and run and roam through the wilds of imagination has been a very real tool to provide refuge against the trials of human life.
The power of a great tale and polished storyteller exists in every society. Whether it is simply storytellers of yore who would draw bar patrons around a rapacious fire and tell fantastical tales to their rapt audience or modern writers of today—typing away into the night on their Mac books—the power of a fictional story cannot be denied. Whether the point of the yarn is to inspire, horrify or transmit cultural or moral values is irrelevant. Fiction has a real and firm place in every society.
In America, the greatest writers either dabbled in fictional world or made the crafting of fictional tales their sole pursuit. From Edgar Allen Poe, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville, Mark Twain to H.P. Lovecraft they all polished the art of crafting fictional worlds. When confronted with the limitless world of imagination, they were able to hone their literary voices, for many purposes. Poe haunted readers with his chilling tales of the queer and horrific, Hemingway dazzled readers with his masterful command of storytelling.
Yet, it isn’t just the simple value of a well-told tale. Fiction writing allows a writer to explore the metes and bounds of the human condition. Books like Robert Penn Warren’s All The King’s Men help us understand the nature of power and ambition in America, John Updike’s Rabbit novels explore the state of a man against the back drop of social changes in America. British writers George Orwell and Adlous Huxley both explored themes of dystopia in their fictional novels. Fictional worlds allow writers to test theories about how the world works against believable and relatable hand-drawn characters. Also, it can be subversive, as fiction allows a writer to criticize people or institutions indirectly.
The distance from reality that fiction affords us to see the world through different lenses. Swedish writer Henrik Ibsen shed light on the coming internal anguish of Western women in A Doll’s House. The play is about a woman who absconds wholly from her family life, foreshadowing the coming malaise of heterosexual women and the concomitant collapse of the family. Margaret Atwood’s execrable The Handmaiden’s Tale explores the modern woman’s sheer terror of family life, sex and religion. In it, a totalitarian Christian sect takes over America, resulting in the collapse of gender equality and the creation of a world based on violent hierarchy. While both of these yarns are based out of unhealthy thought patterns, it sheds light on the perspectives of women.
It might be tempting to dismiss fiction as purely speculative as it allows imaginations to run wild, whether to personal horror like in The Call Of Cthulhu by H.P. Lovecraft or to fearful feminist alchemy like in the aforementioned The Handmaiden’s Tale. Even in the case of Margaret Atwood, it allows one to peer into the mind of the author and the minds of her audience. Which is a key value of fiction: it allows us to see what is popular or popular to certain folks and, hopefully, we can learn something. We can learn of the inner dread of Americans by Stephen King’s sheer popularity, we can see how terrified feminists are of men with their speculative patriarchy fan-fiction.
In sum, we can derive much value from fiction. We could enjoy a yarn about a rapid dog like in King’s Cujo; we could appreciate a muckraking novel about the meatpacking industry like in Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle. Regardless, value of fiction stems from its ability to allow us to suspend disbelief and step into an alternate reality. It could inspire or horrify us, it could allow us to consider and appreciate different viewpoints. No matter what, fiction simply allows us see a different version of reality. The purposes of that vary widely by genre or author, but it gives us humans a temporary departure from the drag of day to day life.
Here is a shortlist of fictional novels that I have enjoyed:
- Shadowdale, Richard Awlinson
- As I Lay Dying, William Faulkner
- Silence Of The Lambs, Thomas Harris
- Lord Of The Flies, William Golding
- Carrie, Stephen King
- Firestarter, Stephen King
- Cujo, Stephen King
- Pet Sematary, Stephen King
- Intensity, Dean Koontz
- Lady Chatterley’s Lover, D.H. Lawrence
- Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde, Robert Louis Stevenson