Yesterday I wrote that “fiction’s job, best as I can tell, is to be good fiction.” That’s a lot simplistic (and completely tautological), and since I scribbled it I’ve wondered if there’s a better way to make the point that fiction that serves a larger purpose always feels compromised, a little less true to itself. If fiction doesn’t have a job, what’s its purpose?
In an entertaining interview with Levi Asher, Up in the Air and Thumbsucker novelist Walter Kirn offers the kind of summary response I was looking for:
My job—my only job, the way I see it—is to dedicate myself, with my whole being, to reflecting, animating, and discovering that in the world (and in my myself) that speaks most energetically of our remarkable situation here as beings who get just one shot—so far as we know—of accommodating a reality that we encounter through no act of will, must abide in without the assistance of a rule book, and are granted no clear vision of our progress through, or any guarantee that progress is possible, measurable, or what it would constitute assuming it were.
That’s a mouthful, and all those rhetorical switchbacks means it likely won’t make it into Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations. But it’s as good a description of the fiction writer’s purpose as I’ve come across.
The entire interview, by the way, covers plenty of interesting ground about Kirn’s dual duties as a novelist and critic, as well as the process of transforming a novel into film. As bloggers used to say a lot more often, read the whole thing.