Young Adult Fiction
There is a fascinating conversation going on over at The Elegant Variation about the merits of young adult fiction. It has remained relatively civil for a comments section, and has risen above the tired old literary vs. genre fiction debate. Instead, we've got thoughtful insights into the motivations of the writers and the readers who choose to explore a world beyond literary fiction.
Hal Duncan's comment about two-thirds of the way through the conversation is especially thought-provoking:
I suspect that the popularity of YA with adults may be born from a reaction against the conventionality of contemporary social realism as much as anything else. When it comes to those kitchen-sink (i.e. working-class) or drawing-room (i.e. middle-class) melodramas -- domestic narratives with an artificially heightened tension -- the downbeat (or poignant) ending has become trite, banal and often contrived, and we're tired of it. I think it was Michael Chabon who had an essay snarling about never wanting to read another bloody "moment of apotheosis" story again. I quite agree. So I suspect if readers are looking for "happy endings" it may be less about a desire for infantile solace as a dismissal of the sort of bourgeois miserabilism which wrongly equates "serious" and "solemn". There's nothing that makes an upbeat ending less profound than a downbeat one (my favourite upbeat ending, for example, is that of Joyce's ULYSSES; you'd be hard placed to find anything in any genre as *affirming* as "he asked me if I'd yes to say yes and yes I said yes I will yes."); but contemporary realism seems to have forgotten that this is the case, that we're allowed to end on another tone than grey, that -- indeed -- ending on that tone, with some cliches about regret and self-realisation, is not in fact all you need to make your work a literary masterpiece.
I've noticed this quite a bit in reading contemporary literary fiction, and it is one reason why I always read two books at the same time, and the second is often science fiction or some other genre that breaks the mold. It is also why a novel like Alice Walker's The Color Purple, which could have easily ended in the same tragic tone that permeates throughout, is a great triumph and a breath of fresh air. The reaction against happy endings, or hope, or generosity, have simply gone too far in literary fiction, and I think Hal is really on to something when he offers this as one explanation for the flight of some readers into other genres.