Especially if one writes as well as LeGuin.
BOOK VIEW CAFE BLOG -- Petty Expectations
I’ve been pondering, tracing connections, wondering about expectations. The first object of my brooding is a pair of sentences from a book review by Terence Rafferty:
“In a horror story or a mystery novel, the flow is all toward narrative resolution, and is — or should be — swift and fierce. Literary fiction, by its nature, allows itself to dawdle, to linger on stray beauties even at the risk of losing its way. [“Reluctant Seer,” Terence Rafferty, NYT Sunday Book Review, 4 Feb 2011]
This little paragraph contains several assumptions, or expectations, that I find no less questionable for being very familiar.
The distinction Mr Rafferty draws between literary and genre fiction, though cherished by many critics and teachers, was never very useful and is by now worse than useless. The opposition — genre rushing hell-for-leather and plotbound to resolution, literature meandering sweetly like a brainless tot in a folktale forest — is absurd.
I seldom read horror, outside Edgar Allen Poe, but I do read mysteries. Mr Rafferty says their flow must be “swift and fierce.” “Fierce” appears to be decorative, “swift” is the operative word. But is it accurate? Some mysteries move swiftly. Many mysteries don’t. Some of my favorites move almost glacially, plodding along from detail to detail gathering irresistible impetus. Like glaciers, they’re in no hurry, but you don’t want to try to stop them.
At some point in every slow-paced mystery the pace will quicken suddenly. That is a great part of the art of pacing: variety. Some people crave the relentlessly “swift, fierce” pace of the pop thriller, but it’s by no means the only way to tell an exciting story; and to many of us it becomes, within a very few pages, merely tiresome.
. . .