on literature and authenticity

Levine-eggers1_jpg_600x1075_q85Tim Parks at the New York Review of Books:

Authors who switch between genre writing and “serious” fiction introduce a further dimension to this question. Is the literary work “authentic” and the genre work not? Georges Simenon wrote seventy-five detective novels featuring Inspector Maigret and, starting somewhat later, forty-four serious novels that many believed should have won him the Nobel Prize. Frequently autobiographical (and we remember here Simenon’s boast to have made love to ten thousand women), the serious fiction endlessly reworks the same territory—like it or not, this does seem to be a hallmark of literary authenticity. Life, in Simenon’s literary novels, is ruthless self-affirmation, “Some [people] seem powerful,” remarks one character typically, “and maybe for the moment they are. But they’re never—and don’t forget it—as powerful as they pretend, because no matter how powerful they are, there are always others who are more powerful still.”

The resulting struggle may occasionally be quieted and contained in mutual understanding, but more often leads to open conflict and catastrophe. In one of the strongest of these novels, Dirty Snow, a young man seeks to assert himself by theft, murder, and deceit. But paradoxically he contrives to do so in such a way that he will be observed by a “good” neighbor whose adolescent daughter he seduces and betrays in the most ugly fashion.

more here.