Saturday, September 24, 2011

Subtext in Literary Fiction -- It's Good for You

Fans of literary fiction have a dirty little secret. At least I’d like to think they do. I’ve heard derogatory remarks about fiction from comedians and the scientific crowd, all denouncing how fictive stories are a waste of time and that if they wanted the real truth they’ll seek it elsewhere. I suppose they could find it in a non-fiction title or the KJV Bible perhaps?

What critics of literary fiction—or any other type of fiction for that matter—don’t realize is that the truth about anything is always hard to find, regardless of the medium. Even the King James Version of the Bible can be a bit confusing at times and finding the truth within its pages, a labyrinth at best.

What critics are missing is that fiction is about the truth. The secret is that writers cloak the truth in a veil of mystery, comedy, and tragedy. But that’s what makes literary fiction so fascinating.

For example, let’s take Flannery O’Connor’s short story “A Good Man is Hard to Find.” If comedic intellectuals can’t find any truth in that story, they certainly are missing the point altogether. What is the point? Well, let’s see … how about that the world is a dangerous place, filled with uncertainties and fatal pitfalls at every turn, and that unless we’re careful or hyper vigilant, it’s just a matter of time and place, and we’re all in for a surprise, sooner or later.

I think that sums up the status quo very nicely. O’Connor’s story is a statement about many things, many truths that lie dormant in society, dormant until they appear in the headlines and remind us what the truth really is—that the ugly truth lurks in plain sight.

It’s like searching for sex offenders in your neighborhood. You can’t see them because they don’t parade the dirt roads in shimmery hot-pants or stand on street corners waving colorful signs that read: “Hello neighbor, I’m a sex offender and I want to snag your little princess, or your little boy.”

That sounds absurd, but when you search your local sex offender’s database, you’ll be surprised to learn that all those little red dots, like buckshot scattered around your town, each represent a registered sex offender in your precious neighborhood. If that isn’t the truth, I don’t know what is, but that’s truth enough for me, and reason enough to believe that fictive stories are in fact plausible and can indeed represent the hidden status quo—the truth beneath the surface.

And that my friends, is the beauty and the ugly truth, all wrapped up in one neat little package writers call, literary fiction. So the next time you’re searching for the truth and you need a break from the KJV, dive into some good old-fashioned literary fiction and enjoy the ride because the words between those salient covers, are just as good for your soul.