Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The Problem with Contemporary Fiction.

The problem with contemporary fiction is that I'm not even sure what that is. It is one of the genres we found among books out there today, but up until today I still don't quite know what it is because I lost track of the genres. We used to know what every genre is really about and we can differentiate each of them by heart. We used to, but not anymore. There used to be this short list of genres in the literary world but lately I gather that the list have grown so long and the old genres that seemed familiar to our ears are derived to at least one or two new sub-genres. It used to be so simple, like just between fiction and non-fiction, then there's this few bullets under fiction and the same for non-fiction. But now we have like historical fiction, contemporary fiction (the big topic of this post), women's fiction, literary fiction, commercial fiction, science fiction, general fiction (general? seriously? can you categorized a book into general fiction after deriving it into so many sub-genres? I don't think so.) and many, many more.

One thing for sure is that contemporary fiction is not a more sophisticated version of chick-lit. I don't know if this is just me, but the way I see it, many people sees contemporary fiction as something more-or-less like the heavier version of chick-lit. (Or maybe that's the way I see it and I'm the only one who sees it that way.) Well, I'm sure that is not, even though it seems like it. Contemporary fiction, I learnt, is a fictional book that takes place in the present. (Let's hope I learnt this right because the word "contemporary" sure supports the argument there of what contemporary fiction is all about.) Because chick-lit books talk mostly about women's career and love life in the present time, like for example the legendary Bridget Jones's Diary and The Nanny Diaries, most chick-lit books are considered as contemporary fiction. However, this doesn't mean that contemporary fiction is the same with chick-lit. 

There's this article from the Economist (click here to read the full article) that shows people actually finds contemporary fiction as the grown up version of chick-lit. I don't see the need of chick-lit to ever grow up or be more mature, in the sense that it's no longer just about dating and kissing hot looking guys, but it goes deeper into private family matters, exposing relationships between women in the family and so on, because chick-lit is just about embracing women in stories. It's about women. It just so happens that the trend used to be that it is written in a easy and such intimate, conversational style that it all seems to be light reading for us. And this light-reading-style is considered "cheesy" or "cheap" nowadays that people seemed to want to move on from light chick-lits, to heavier reads, which many people considered as contemporary fiction. 

Well, have you forgotten about Jane Eyre? I haven't. And Pride and Prejudice? Those are legendary chick-lits of the olden days and I'm damn sure those two novels are no where near light. They are in fact rich in language and considered one of the classics for today's readers. Are those contemporary fiction? No. Are they chick-lit? Yes. Okay, maybe those two are too heavy. A lighter one, yet still as legendary as the two, Sundays at Tiffany's by James Patterson. I sure don't consider this as chick-lit even though the book talked about the love-affair between a girl and her imaginary friend, because the story doesn't revolves around just girls, which is what chick-lit is all about, stories that's all about women, ladies, girls. And yet, I consider reading the book as light reading. But do I find the book as contemporary fiction? Yes, I do, as the story takes place in the present. Other great novels, such as Freedom, by Jonathan Franzen, is definitely one of the best contemporary fiction novels ever written. Is novel a chick-lit? Big NO. Freedom doesn't talk about women, it talks about family, relationships, love-affairs, money, property and all these with women as a part of it, but not the big picture of it. 

So the problem with contemporary fiction is that you can't say this as a heavier, more mature version of chick-lit. It never was. As a writer of contemporary fiction myself (hopefully it's good enough to be published), I feel sort of disturbed if people say I'm writing a chick-lit when my story revolves around family relationships and not merely woman. In respect to all chick-lit books and writers out there, I have to say my favorite genre is contemporary fiction and yes, because partly it is heavier than chick-lit in the sense that contemporary fiction embraces more than just women. Okay, probably not "just" women, but mostly women. Being a woman myself I'm proud to see many genres that focuses on women, it's just to me that's not the kind of writing I want to be doing. But anyhow, I'm not sure this post even makes sense at all, but I have poured out all the thoughts I've had for the past few days about contemporary fiction. Cheers, to writing it all out! 

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