Turning the Tide

Regular readers of this blog are probably aware of my views on the novel and its relation to the world at large, so I quite appreciated Walter Mosley’s essay in the Washington Post this weekend, in which he says of the writer’s task:

The mastery of language is our duty. We enter this world by placing one word after another in comprehensible and unique ways. And then, of course, there’s what the author is willing to talk about. When politics enters our writing, we are often asked by our representatives, our teachers, and sometimes our audience to step back from outspoken and controversial opinions about how this world works. Many times I’ve been told by people I respect, “There’s too much emphasis on race in this book,” or “The government and the police aren’t really like that.”

I am asked not to stand down but to stand back — behind the line of good taste.

“Books are entertainments,” I am told. “No one wants to hear your ideas about how the world works or what’s wrong with America.”

Of course they don’t. The job of the writer is to take a close and uncomfortable look at the world they inhabit, the world we all inhabit, and the job of the novel is to make the corpse stink. If writing was always only a good adventure with a teary or cheery ending, books would not be worth the effort to read or to write.

Novels are about the world we live in. No one is suggesting that they should be propaganda for oil companies and fast food concerns. Or there to justify unjust wars or the American Way. Nor should they be apologies for anarchic maniacs who seek in their distress to destroy an entire world. But to the extent that these things are in our world, we should write about them.

Read the rest of this excellent essay here.