Our man of the hour, Morgan Meis, in The Smart Set:
Tom Clancy’s death did not shake the literary establishment. That’s because Tom Clancy was never part of the literary establishment. He was an insurance salesman. In his spare time, Clancy wrote military thrillers. His first book, The Hunt for Red October — about a Soviet naval officer who takes his super-secret sub and defects to the US — was published by the Naval Institute Press in Annapolis. Clancy got $5000 bucks for it. But Ronald Reagan read the book and started telling everybody how much he loved it. Soon enough, Clancy was a bestselling author. The story gets ridiculous from there, with books spilling off the presses and hundreds of millions of dollars changing hands. Movies were made. Video games were made. This was the stuff that publishers and business-minded authors dream about on cold autumn nights.
The more famous Tom Clancy became, the more serious readers ignored him. Clancy was, after all, not so much a writer as a teller of war stories. He wrote to get the story down. Beyond that, he had little sense of craft or style. He wrote his stories. He made his money. And then he died. The end.
There is, however, a tantalizing side note to this story. There was a man whose death did very much shake the literary establishment. That man was David Foster Wallace. And David Foster Wallace, it turns out, liked to read Tom Clancy. That’s no big deal, you might say. Even the most serious writer needs to take a break from reading Dostoyevsky and Wittgenstein, and we all enjoy a good potboiler. True enough. Except that DFW seems to have valued Tom Clancy a lot more highly than that.
Bonus question: What do Morgan Meis and David Foster Wallace have in common? 🙂