I started reading Widow of the South by Robert Hicks because I volunteered to be a beta reader for someone who wanted to write in a style similar to his. I felt like I needed to read it because my reading ear was tuned to commercial fiction and not literary fiction so I wanted a dose of literary fiction to actually be able to give her a decent critique.
Robert Hicks has a background in music and that background comes out in his writing. This book has a lyrical style, almost like a song. As I read it I felt like I was in a type of rocking chair, rocking back and forth, back and forth with the words. They ebbed and flowed like that. And I loved it. But that’s the only thing about this book that I loved.
His characterization killed the book for me. Coming out of a writing conference where I was immersed in compelling characterization I found myself not giving a rip about the people Hick’s wrote about.
I consider myself, with pride, a genre fiction junkie. I will stand up and proclaim that genre fiction is the nectar of the gods. It moves me. It makes me happy and sad and sometimes even makes me cry. Many times at the end, I close the book and with a sigh clutch the tome to my breast in supreme contentment. Other times I grieve because the journey is over. And many times I become the greenest greenest green with envy because I feel deep down that their storytelling is so superb that no matter how experienced I become, I will NEVER EVER EVER achieve that level of storytelling.
Who among us doesn’t remember sitting around a campfire or under the covers at night with a flashlight, listening with bated breath to the stories of our youth? What was it about those stories that captivated us? That made us want more? I say it was pure storytelling. Storytelling that creates compelling characters and tells us of the trials and tribulations they face and in the end conquer.
Stories of legends and heroes and princesses and princes. Stories of good and evil and the battles between them. Stories of how the good kicks butt and takes names.
Storytelling is at the heart of genre fiction and that is what my heart yearns for.
There’s a great debate going on today between the merits of literary vs. genre fiction and both sides are yelling at each other saying the other is not worth reading. I say they’re both wrong because it all boils down to their intended audience. Anne Neugbauer recently wrote a post on the differences between literary and commercial fiction and the very first thing she said is that literary fiction was art whereas commercial fiction is entertainment.
In other words the audience for literary fiction is quite different from the audience for genre fiction. This is just like saying the audience for YA is quite different from the audience for erotica. In another context, it’s like saying the audience for the Dallas Museum of Art is quite different from the audience for the Fort Worth Stockyard Museum.
I am solidly in the audience for genre fiction. I am someone who wants to be tickled instead of cerebrally stimulated. In my defense, I have to say that there’s so much bad stuff abounding in the world right now that if entertainment is what gives me a break from it, then bring it on.
I’m sorry to say that Widow of the South will be one of those books I put down and don’t pick back up. Not because it wasn’t any good but because I’m not the intended audience.
What about you? Do you prefer literary fiction or commercial fiction? I’d love to hear from you!