The Return of the Serialized Novel

We’ve noticed some of the individual pieces, but is there a growing trend? are serialzied novels making a come back?

[S]ince last September The New York Times Magazine has been publishing weekly episodes of genre fiction by Elmore Leonard, Patricia Cornwell, and now, Scott Turow, with Michael Chabon on deck. London’s The Observer has been publishing short fiction and a serial novel by Ronan Bennett titled Zugzwang, and Slate has started running installments of The Unbinding, a novel by Walter Kirn.

Gerald Marzorati, editor of the Times magazine, originated the so-called Funny Pages department to be a modern, 21st-century evocation of the Sunday supplements published in the Hearst papers at the turn of the last century. “The news is dark,” says Marzorati, “and the Funny Pages aren’t all that funny, but they are a distraction, a foil, a different flavor.”

The section comprises a comic, for many weeks drawn by Chris Ware and now by Jaime Hernandez, blandly funny essays, and excerpts from new novels by bestselling genre authors. (“This is not a vibrant time for short literary fiction,” asserts Marzorati.) At Risk, a Cornwell procedural starring a police detective with a “body that looks sculpted of creamy stone” ordered to investigate a 20-year-old murder at the behest of a svelte and ambitious district attorney, concluded disappointingly in the April 16 issue with a revelation lifted from stale Martha Stewart headlines. It is worth noting that the magazine waits for completed manuscripts before agreeing to publish, a precaution not taken in Victorian times of the serial novel, when the ink was still wet on the page on the new installments as they were being typeset. “That’s not the way to get the best writing,” Marzorati argues. “Today’s writers’ schedules are more frantic than Trollope’s was.”