By Jack Engelhard
When I heard that an obscure French-born novelist had won the Nobel Prize, I thought it must be me and I began eyeing that red Cadillac. After all, I fit all three categories. I am obscure. I am French-born. I am a novelist. Who else could it be? A man named Jean-Marie Gustav Le Clezio, that’s who. Oh well, as we say in baseball (and the economy) – wait till next year.
I hope Le Clezio wins us over. This is not promising. There have been no long lines for preceding Nobel champs, big names like Orhan Pamuk and Elfriede Jelinek.
Hemingway got the jitters when he won it and in fact he wanted no part of it due to the jinx.
But I’m stalling. I’ve really come here to talk about THE DEATH OF THE NOVEL. The latest to have his crack at this is columnist Kyle Smith writing in today’s New York Post (Sunday, Oct. 12). He sums it all up, in my favorite newspaper, by saying (if not in those words) that, in this fast-paced age of technology, fiction does not speak for our times.
People want the facts and only the facts. People want sound-bites.
Me? The man who ALMOST won this year’s Nobel Prize in Literature? I say just the opposite.
I say to hell with the facts. Give me fiction.
What’s the difference between fact and fancy anyway? The wobbly youngster who would be our next President does not even qualify for Security Clearance – and this is Real?
His opponent is teetering toward election day as a lame duck candidate.
Of course, Smith is not the first to declare fiction dead and buried. Even novelists themselves have been saying this. Philip Roth, I think, said that, and I know Tom Wolfe said that – and then went ahead and started writing 900 page works of fiction, all of them, by the way, darned good.
Has anybody told JK Rowling that the novel is dead? How about Dan Brown? Novels are jumping off the shelves at Amazon and at Barnes and Noble.
Years ago, when an even earlier generation said that the novel is dead, this time due to television and our ever declining attention span, James Michener did something different after he was told to keep it short. Michener intentionally produced long, sprawling novels. His point? Especially now in a culture so lightweight, readers need something deep and substantial. His success proved him right.
Incidentally, when television came along, people said that radio would be dead. Likewise the movies and both are alive and kicking. When the computer came along, experts said – and here we go again – that people would stop reading books. Tech giant Amazon, it was agreed, would make paper obsolete. Here’s the irony. Amazon built itself by selling, guess what? Books! Paper!
Novels, true novels, speak to us as no other art form. Margaret Mitchell gave us the Civil War. Mark Twain gave us America. Leo Tolstoy and Boris Pasternak gave us Russia. Gustave Flaubert gave us France. Charles Dickens gave us England. Leon Uris gave us Israel. Franz Kafka gave us the entire 20th Century — and all of it through what? Through fiction!
(I cover more of this topic in most of my novels, which is why I almost won the Nobel Prize.)
I got to thinking about all this when I got up this morning, AND yesterday morning, AND all the other mornings when I arose to the news that the world is falling apart
Enough! I want no more of THE DAY THE ECONOMY STOOD STILL.
I’ll tell you the moment of my disgust and my epiphany. I waited all the week for the debate between Obama and what’s his name. I bought the hype. Along with the rest of America, I snoozed through the “debate,” and that’s all right. It’s all pre-packaged anyway. Every response has been focus-grouped and market tested.
This means that News isn’t even News. We know what’s coming. (Memo to Sarah Palin’s running mate: Pocket the smile. You are not Cary Grant and you will not charm your way into the White House. We’re still waiting for you to rise and shine.) Then, I clicked over to the classical music channel – and this is when I got furious.
What had I missed? I had missed the glorious first movement of Brahms First Piano Concerto.
I still haven’t forgiven myself — political garbage and economic despair instead of Brahms and Beethoven?
I’m going back to reading (fiction), writing, music and baseball.
As for the “facts” – wake me when it’s over.
Jack Engelhard’s latest novel, THE BATHSHEBA DEADLINE, now in paperback, places journalism at the center of our war on terror. Engelhard wrote the international bestselling novel INDECENT PROPOSAL that was translated into more than 22 languages and turned into a Paramount motion picture starring Robert Redford and Demi Moore. He can be reached at his website www.jackengelhard.com.