THE BLOG

Is Most Contemporary Literary Fiction Really Terrible?

04/01/2013 02:53 pm ET | Updated Jun 01, 2013

I hear this complaint a lot, and it's just been repeated on Salon.com.

Is it true?

I guess it depends on what you're reading. I just finished Laura Kasischke's poetic, engrossing novel The Raising, set on an elite college campus. Her characters are vivid, her style poetic, her plotting skills extraordinary. I didn't want the book to end, and it's over 450 pages long.

Roxane Gay's debut collection Ayiti is a stunning short book of powerful, carefully balanced stories that take readers into a geography of sorrow and pain. Her characters live in the shadow of disaster and the headlines about Haiti become cruelly real in her work. I was transfixed.

The White Devil by Justin Evans is an erotic, thrilling novel about Byron, prep school, and revenge. Evans is an amazing writer whose prose is so beautiful I kept reading bits aloud to my spouse, and marking passages to return to. It's a book I want to reread--soon.

I'm currently guest teaching fiction writing at Michigan State University and would have no problems recommending those books to my students interested in contemporary literary fiction. I could add books by Richard Russo, Leslie Forbes, Alan Furst, Binnie Kirshenbaum, Susanna Clarke, Laurie King, Manil Suri, Jonathan Wilson, Lisa Zeidner, Mary Gordon, Aaron Hamburger, Michel Faber, Barry Unsworth, Elise Blackwell.

They're all formidable writers, superb storytellers, and not one has bored me yet. Is there terrible literary fiction out there? Yes. But there's also plenty of bad genre fiction as well, maybe more, proportionally, because so many crime writers, for instance, have to churn out a book every year.

Are these authors above the best writers we've ever seen in America and England? Who knows? What I do know is that they've all written memorable books that have touched me deeply as a reader, and inspired me as an author.

Lev Raphael is the author of twenty-four books in genres from memoir to mystery to Jane Austen mash-up.