THE KIRKUS “STAR”

Kirkus gave the novel, American Heart, by Laura Moriarty, a starred review.  Then, because of criticism, Kirkus revoked it.  I have not read the novel, and am not arguing whether it should have been given a star–or even a good review–based on its merits.  Perhaps it is a badly written effort and should not have been given a star at all.  I leave that to others.  (Moriarty may or may not have done a decent or bad job of presenting Muslim characters, and I’d be fine with someone who read the book attacking it on the basis of how Muslims were presented.)

What concerns me is the reasons Kirkus has stated for revoking the star.  Apparently, when asked if the book’s star was revoked explicitly and exclusively because it features a Muslim character seen from the perspective of a white teenager, Kirkus’s editor-in-chief Claiborne Smith stated, “Yes.”  (See Kirkus Editor-in-Chief Explains Why They Altered That American Heart Review)  This, after commenters’ attacks that the novel was promoting a “white savior” narrative.

Noting that she’s being attacked for having a “white savior” protagonist, Moriarty states that if she’d written it from the Muslim woman’s point of view, she would have been attacked as “appropriating another’s culture,” and that what’s really being said is don’t even dare to write about anyone’s culture but your own.

This narrowing of fiction and who is “allowed” to write what has been going on for a long time, and frankly, for a large part, I have felt that American writers in particular bow to this restriction, and so we end up with mediocre “write what you know” literature rather than, “know what you write” literature.

As a writer, that leaves me in despair.  If this is where we are in the writing of fiction–certainly in what is favored in the publishing of fiction–perhaps writing science fiction/fantasy/speculative fiction with no connection to any ethnic group existing on earth may now be the only way to go for a writer’s freedom.  It’s that, or just stop writing.  

On Sinclair Lewis’s It Can’t Happen Here

I’ve been away from this blog for a few months–family illnesses to deal with, but they are, for now, dealt with–and I’m back!

I’ve just finished reading Sinclair Lewis’s It Can’t Happen Here.  The novel was written in 1935, using the ambitions of the demagogue Huey Long as its basis.  But, it reads, at times, as if Lewis had used a time machine to come forward to 2017, had taken what is happening now in America, and returned to his own time to write his work. (Of course, one could argue that the more things change, the more they stay the same.  But that would only indicate that Lewis understood something about the weaknesses in the nature of man and in American society that is universal and not unique to his era.)

The book’s nominal protagonist is a mild-mannered, liberal, small town Vermont newspaper owner/editor by the name of Doremus Jessup.  But the true main character of the novel is our society as a whole.  The book uses the novel form as mechanism to present a thinly veiled treatise on the way in which fascism and totalitarianism can happen here.  This use of the novel form seems to have fallen out of fashion in the last half of the 20th century, the concept of what a novel should be and do having narrowed considerably.  But, that is a subject I will address separately in a later post. Today, and for the next several days, I am going to present some quotes from It Can’t Happen Here, which I expect may strike a chord of familiarity with the reader, as they did with me.

Here is the first.  (A number of chapters begin with an excerpted quote from the  fictional book, Zero Hour, by Berzelius Windrip, the demagogic senator who becomes president in the novel.  This one precedes Chapter 11.):

“When I was a kid, one time I had an old-maid teacher that used to tell me, ‘Buzz, you’re the thickest-headed dunce in school.’  But I noticed that she told me this a whole lot oftener than she used to tell the other kids how smart they were, and I came to be the most talked-about scholar in the whole township.  The United States Senate isn’t so different, and I want to thank a lot of stuffed shirts for their remarks about Yours Truly.
Zero Hour, Berzelius Windrip”