Literature of Limits
THOUGHTS ON SALLY ROONEY’S NOVEL NORMAL PEOPLE
ONE CAN’T HELP but notice, with the massive hype accompanying the U.S. release of the Sally Rooney novel Normal People, how willing literary people today are to settle for limited accomplishment from limited talents. To accept the achievement of small effects, delicately arrived at.
I read the novel before most because a friend of ours in the U.K. gave it to us. It’s not a bad novel. Not at all. But the final emotion given this reader upon finishing it was, “So what?” Is this really the best Big Five London-New York publishing can come up with? Careful language, careful plotting, careful characters, careful themes and ideas– as if today’s world of political correctness has put today’s writer into a cage.
Maybe it’s not politics (though there are signs that it is). Possibly it’s the temperament of this age, to see the world in muted tones. Melodrama? Heavens no. The reverse. By and large no drama– other than a couple brief appearances of a mostly offstage male villain in the form of an angry brother– whose rage is never explained or understood. Or the drama of deciding which MFA writing program to enroll in. (I kid you not.)
For temperament and limits, this novel can be compared to the delicate poems of recently deceased award-winning poet Mary Oliver, which aim for modest achievement, limited effects. Worthy, if that’s all you want– but a distinct dropping off from the exuberance of a Walt Whitman or Allen Ginsberg. Or the craft and passion of a Sylvia Plath.
Today’s literature exists inside the constraints of a cage or a box. It’s time to crash out.
(As we’ll attempt to do with our 3–D Story project.)
-Karl Wenclas, New Pop Lit News