After a slight delay, the third installment about writers of different generations. At a talk I gave the other day, I happened to mention that all of my writers, that is, the ones who were young when I was, are getting old. And as someone who professes to study contemporary literature, that’s not really a problem, because there are always new writers coming along. The talk, as it happens, was at the kickoff event for a community read at Mott Community College; they’re calling it Mott Novel, and the novel in question in this inaugural year is Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven. She’s not brand new, but she’s still young enough to qualify as someone who is renewing her chosen literary form. If I said to you–heck, if someone said to me–that this is a post-apocalyptic novel, you would say something like, “Honestly? Haven’t we had enough of those.” But what matters is the nature of a particular apocalypse and what happen in the “post” period. Oh, and how well it is told. This one is told extremely well.
I have been extremely impressed with a number of other writers as well, and I apologize in advance for those I fail to name. Amanda Coplin (The Orchardist) and Adam Foulds (The Quickening Maze) demonstrate what can be done with meticulous historical research if you can then make it sing. Téa Obreht’s The Tiger’s Wife is a marvel of invention. Zadie Smith has been around so long that we almost forget how young she still is. And the still comparatively young (compared to me) Irish novelists Emma Donoghue and Colum McCann continually surprise. If the last decade produced any works more astonishing than Room and Let the Great World Spin, I missed them.
Of all the newer writers, Helen Oyeyemi is fast becoming a favorite. She wrote her first novel while still in secondary school, which is how she could have five published works of fiction before turning thirty. First I read Mr. Fox, loved it, then had to wait for Boy. Snow. Bird. to come out in paperback (because I’m a cheapskate) and was completely blown away. And then, not wanting to wait for her next novel, I went backward in the catalog when I found White Is for Witching at Powell’s City of Books this summer. More delight. I love what she can do with reworked fairy tales, which isn’t quite like Angela Carter, whom I idolize, or like anyone else, come to think of it. Plus, her name is just so darned much fun to say.
So, if you’ve finally read everything by your favorites, or if their numbers dwindle away, don’t mourn. All you have to do is look around.