The 98-Pound Gorilla in the Room
How the spindly McSweeney's short story became a menace.
In one way, at least, Chabon's issue does provide hope. The point is not that genre fiction necessarily "liberates" writers—most of the pieces here are dreadful, especially the ones by genre stalwarts like Crichton and King. But a few of them are actually profound. These are the ones in which the writers didn't adhere too strictly to their chosen genre—in fact, it's not always easy to determine what that genre might be. They seem, rather, to have taken the idea of genre as simply a reminder that stories can have plots, and characters, and even epiphanies. These stories are experimental, in their own way—some of them are quite self-conscious—but their experimenting is a means to meaning, not an end. Who are these old-fashioned writers? None other than McSweeney's own Nick Hornby, Rick Moody, and Dave Eggers.
Ruth Franklin, a senior editor at the New Republic, is the author of A Thousand Darknesses: Lies and Truth in Holocaust Fiction.