Or, to put it another way, is literature like The Gong Show? I think it is, and that’s why I write with a bag over my head and two holes cut out for eyes. The Unknown Comic is a major influence for me.
As a reader I always have a gong at the ready, especially in those opening pages. I’ve dropped more mysteries than I would care to admit after the first chapter, because when the “whodunit” question was presented, my brain answered, “I don’t care.”
But with a mystery or thriller, if I make it past those early pages I’m usually in until the end, whereas in literary fiction, there’s a greater chance I will drop out midway through. More than once I’ve begun books dazzled by a writer’s talents, only to bang the gong because I felt like I was unlikely to get anything at page 456 that I hadn’t experienced by page 118. These books felt more like a flavor than a story. And I need a story.
My favorite books—from canon classic Don Quixote to Patricia Highsmith’s thriller The Talented Mr. Ripley—had me invested in their characters’ fate even as they presented narratives of great depth. It’s the standard to which every book should be held.
If you’re near Annapolis, please come out on the 16th. The festival’s entire slate looks great. It should be a fun day.