The Martin Papers

Christian Lorentzen in Bookforum:

“SENESCENCE” ISN’T QUITE THE RIGHT WORD for the stage the writers of the Baby Boom have reached. Sure, they may be collecting social security, the eldest of them in their mid-seventies, but the wonders of modern science may allow some another couple of decades of productivity. When the Reaper starts to come for the writer’s instrument, the first thing to go is flow, but that may not matter: fragments are in. In a decade or so, robbed of their transitions and reduced to accumulating prose shards, the octogenarian Boomers may find themselves newly trendy. A strange fate for a generation that entered the literary world at the height of its postmodern excesses: everyone still standing will turn into Lydia Davis.

Topical relevance is another matter. On these shores, the Dirty Realists have been the victims of their generational good fortune. The decades of affluence—and cushy teaching positions—that followed their breakout work have alienated them from the hardscrabble subject matter that made them so interesting in the first place. In Britain, the Boomers have been, since their arrival, the most celebrated literary cohort in history. Endless scandals, enormous book deals, a worldwide fatwa—one of them reviewing another without sufficient deference used to be the cause of international headlines. Arriving in a mature and thriving literary culture, many of them took up staff positions at venerable London papers—the Times Literary Supplement, the New Statesman, the Sunday TimesThe Observer—and published in the upstart journals: Ian Hamilton’s New Review, Bill Buford’s Granta, the fledgling London Review of Books under Mary-Kay Wilmers and Karl Miller. By the 1980s and 1990s, the culture had decided to make celebrities out of its authors. The agent Andrew Wylie expanded his operations from New York to London and began to extract astronomical advances from an increasingly corporate publishing industry. Tina Brown’s takeover of the New Yorker in 1992, with Buford installed as fiction editor, completed the transatlantic circuit of literary hype.

More here.