The Novel Nowadays

I've always been a reader, especially of novels and short stories, starting way back when I discovered the Howard Pease books about the sailing ships of long ago. I've been an avid reader of magazines, too, but in the early seventies realized that I had become so interested in news/commentary magazines like the incomparable National Review that I had ignored the novel for a long time.

I checked the best-seller list and discovered that Portnoy's Complaint was all the rage and bought a copy. I made it through four pages in which appeared such a pile of sex-ridden garbage and unbelievable weirdness that I put away the book and decided that if the novel had degenerated to that despicable level I needed to stick with just the news, which helped anyway since I was writing a couple of newspaper columns a week for the local newspaper.

According to the literati (especially book-reviewers of the avant-garde publications and coastal newspapers as well as university English faculties), Portnoy was then and still is among the best of English writing in the last 100 or so years. The book continued in the vein of the first four pages, I've read, so I would have needed 100 symbolic showers using abrasive soap if I had finished it just to eradicate the written dirt.

It wasn't that long before I returned to reading books but I'm like most guys – at least so I've heard – who read not for discovering a “slice of life,” which the enlightened professors like to have as a useful cliché, but just for entertainment, with the demand that there be an actual plot and that unbelievable coincidences and feats of physical legerdemain not predominate. I'm not enamored of Faulkner or Salinger.

So...I like the “commercial” books, those down upon which the literati look in their condescension. I've discovered a change in them as well, except for the best writers like Le Carre, Clancy, Michener and Grisham, who handle the “delicacies” adroitly and not with the hormone-driven high-school-sophomore boy in mind. The major change has to do with women, who appear now as hard-nosed career superior-beings able to out-think, out-swear and out-muscle any man who gets in their way. They appear especially in books having to do with crime subjects and written by men.

These women use the f-word like it came before Adam and fling off their panties for the slightest reason, especially entrapment of an inferior male (all males are inferior), sorta like the spider in her web. I checked out from the library the other day an “action” book, one of the usual best-seller types, and I'm just over half through. I can skip the garbage parts and have no idea why the stuff is used – maybe just filler.

Already, action has drifted from this country to the Middle East and a tortuous session in Bangkok – an assassin, burning buildings, heroic jumps from roofs – and another in Zurich, where a beautiful lady outsmarts the hero, slamming and locking him in a tanning bed to bake him alive. He escapes, of course, just in time. Meanwhile, back in Washington, two lesbians, who outsmart their bosses by day but have been invited to dinner by them, have just retired to a stall in the ladies room for a quick orgy between the salad and main course to do whatever they do. I'll skip this part but on second thought may just skip the rest of the book.

I write novels, too, though I'm unheard of (books are, too). I got so sick of this best-seller stuff that I decided to write a novel (my fifth) in which no main character is a woman and sex is of no consequence. Its title is The Biggest Con and it has to do with the world of spies, intrigue, religion, and even some fun. Its heroes belong to the CIA and its meanies are jihad-types out to promulgate al Qaeda-ism throughout the world. It's the opposite of Portnoy and the book I may or may not finish reading now.

Actually, art reflects culture, especially with respect to the written word. The little needless lesbian episode mentioned above took 2.5 pages that I didn't read. It was followed closely by a whore attempting seduction of the hero in Zurich. So far, this has been the century of the homosexual (now a protected species like the famous snail-darter), up to and including marriage, as well as the glorification of kinky sex and the “liberated woman,” who nevertheless screams rape when she's mad at a guy and wants to ruin him. This shows up in the American novel, and the enlightened literati worship it, which proves that morons can be book-reviewers and college professors.

And so it goes.
Jim Clark