Does fiction have to be important? There are always jokes about the “great american novel” or “the book to end all books” when you are a writer. I look at the books I’ve been reading lately: Hemingway, Robison, Cunningham, McCarthy, and more. Were their books important when they came out? Or is it only that we see them that way through the hazy lens of time, the way the pages of old love letters yellow and fade so beautifully. They may say nothing more romantic than “I miss you” but when they are crumbling and illegible they are a sort of testament to love. Time cannot make bad writing good. In fact, I think it can only serve to emphasize the flaws as age deepens lines and gravity takes its toll.
But, if it is a good story, if someone enjoys it and it captures their attention, their imagination–is it any less important than something by Hugo or Fitzgerald or Kerouac? Does everything we write have to be some sort of commentary? A stand for or against something? Can there be beautiful writing and captivating characters that serve no other real purpose than to reach out with their golden tipped fingers and pull you in saying, “Come with me to places you’ve never been”?
William Faulkner said, “the problems of the human heart in conflict with itself…alone can make good writing because only that is worth writing about, worth the agony and the sweat.”
The Hemingway of Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris said, “No subject is terrible if the story is true, if the prose is clean and honest, and if it affirms courage and grace under pressure.”
I tend to agree with both. Some people would perhaps say this is too narrow a stipulation, too confining. But what could be less so? The human heart in conflict with itself is a thing of endless possibilities. Endless humans (or non-humans if you will) and endless conflicts. The truth of a story is also subjective–it doesn’t mean the story had to have happened to you or happened at all. But if the story contains truth, reveals truth, prompts a search for truth–whatever that truth may be–how can it fail to be worthwhile?
The original question in this post was not rhetorical. I think blogging has become voyeuristic in so many ways. We read, we watch, we peer into the lives of bloggers, but we never interact. So I will repeat my question: does fiction have to be inherently important?