Brief Thoughts on Fiction in America

I mentioned in a post on 15 November that I’m currently serving on the search committee for a job opening in my department. The position is for a fiction writer, so I’ve been reading lots of short stories which serve as the candidates’ writing samples. Much of the fiction is quite good, which is comforting because it shows that American literature is in a good place and that there is an up-and-coming generation of writers who will help it continue to thrive.

However, virtually all of the stories that I’ve read thus far–both realist and speculative, and by both whites and persons of color and across genders–have been about alienation, about failing relationships, about characters who have enough material goods to be happy, but are not. While it is true that it is usually more interesting to read about imperfect characters and scenarios than their opposite (e.g., the American literature from the 1950s that has lasted is also mostly about these themes), this trend gives me pause because of what it says about the current state of American life. What does it mean when the people who should be happiest because of their level of education and wealth remain dissatisfied?

Obviously this is not an original question, and the political side of me immediately wants to answer “Of course people aren’t happy! Capitalism has rotted their souls!” or something like that, but nevertheless it is always troubling when I am again reminded of it. It is difficult not to think that America is heading for a painful reckoning sometime soon. This status quo can’t last.

Published by danielshankcruz

I grew up in New York City and lived in Lancaster, Pennsylvania; Goshen, Indiana; DeKalb, Illinois; and Salt Lake City, Utah before coming to Utica, New York. My mother’s family is Swiss-German Mennonite (i.e., it’s an ethnicity, not necessarily a theological persuasion) and my father’s family is Puerto Rican. I have a Ph.D. in English and currently teach at Utica College. I have also taught at Northern Illinois University and Westminster College in Salt Lake City. My teaching and scholarship are motivated by a passion for social justice, which is why my research focuses on the literature of oppressed groups, especially LGBT persons and people of color. While I primarily read and write about fiction, I am also a devoted reader of poetry because, as William Carlos Williams writes, “It is difficult / to get the news from poems / yet [people] die miserably every day / for lack / of what is found there.” Thinkers who influence me include Marina Abramovic, Kathy Acker, Di Brandt, Ana Castillo, Samuel R. Delany, Percival Everett, Essex Hemphill, Jane Jacobs, Walt Whitman, and the New York School of poets. I am also fond of queer Mennonite writers such as Stephen Beachy, Jan Guenther Braun, Lynnette Dueck/D’anna, and Casey Plett. In my free time I’m either reading, writing the occasional poem, playing board games (especially Scrabble, backgammon, and chess), watching sports (Let’s Go, Mets!), or cooking (curries, stews, roasts…).

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