Fiction in the Age of Poverty
An essay of mine appears on Powells.com, in which I discuss the troubling absence of the poor in current fiction. Here is a snippet:
Poverty has receded from the list of popular themes of the American novel. No longer do we have a John Steinbeck, a Richard Wright, a Theodore Dreiser, or a Zora Neale Hurston writing about the working poor. Who today would write that “In the souls of the people the grapes of wrath are filling and growing heavy, growing heavy for the vintage”? It would not be an exaggeration to say that, in the last decade, American fiction has been fixated on the middle and upper classes. The suburban novel dramatized their love affairs, their existential crises, and their boredom with a life of carpools. (The Ice Storm, Little Children.) The chick-lit novel enjoyed tremendous popularity by featuring women who worry about their weight, their shoes, and dating the right man. (The Devil Wears Prada, Bergdorf Blondes.) The campus novel brought us academics’ anxieties over racial discrimination or tenure or old age. (The Human Stain, Wonder Boys.) Meanwhile, the poor were stuck with silent or supporting roles. Something very tangible happened to American protagonists in the last ten years. Unlike a great many of their fellow countrymen, they stopped worrying about making rent.