Here's the question for the literary crowd: Where's The Great Gatsby of today?
I keep hearing from literary writers that the difference between genre and "Literary" fiction—besides the big L and plenty of academic air quotes—is that literary fiction deals with what truly matters. Literary fiction is "serious fiction" with "literary merit" as opposed to all that trashy genre stuff, which is merely fun to read.
Now obviously I don't agree with that; for me great fiction boils down to well-written stories which reveal a deeper truth about our world. There are stories which do that and stories which don't.
But in the interest of giving literary writers a shot at proving their genre's worth, I want to know where's The Great Gatsby of today?
I ask because it appears that while journalists and scientific researchers are exploring the issues and themes raised in F. Scott Fitzgerald's classic novel, not a lot of literary authors are doing the same. For example, the recent NY Times article "As for Empathy, the Haves Have Not"covers research indicating there are major differences in how the "rich and the poor experience the world psychologically." Basically, the less money you have the more likely you'll develop good social skills to compensate, while the rich have what the researchers call an "empathy deficit."
Then there's the amazing Atlantic Monthly article "The Rise of the New Global Elite" by Chrystia Freeland, which explores the new upper class of people with almost no ties to the lands, cultures, and beliefs of their births.
In light of the recent near collapse of our economy, the topics covered by these two journalistic articles cry out for the fictional treatment from an author with "literary merit." But I see nothing out there even though these cultural trends are hardly new. They've been around for almost two decades. The last big literary novel to deal which this subject was Tom Wolfe's The Bonfire of the Vanities. But since that novel came out in 1987, it hardly deals with today's new rich.
Instead, the Atlantic Monthly article opens with Fitzgerald's famous quote that the rich are different from you and me. No recent author is mentioned except for Holly Peterson, the daughter of one of the tycoons profiled in the article. Peterson evidently wrote a novel called The Manny, which "lightly satirizes the lives and loves of financiers and their wives on the Upper East Side" and is described as a "mommy lit" beach book.
If I was a literary writer with a big L and air quotes, it would bother me that Fitzgerald and The Great Gatsby are still the standards by which fictional examinations of today's rich are measured. Are the screwed-up lives of the rich and how they're changing our world a topic avoided by literary fiction? Are our literary writers too tied in with uppercase ways to write truthfully about the extremely rich? Or am I missing some amazing stories and novels which are as penetrating as those two journalistic articles?
I look forward to hearing from people.