Monday, December 16, 2002

"James Wood, the very smart and very grouchy literary critic for The New Republic, has become increasingly exasperated with those enormous, encyclopedic novels like The Corrections that contemporary writers keep churning out. These show-offy books -- all longer than Ulysses and teeming with zany-yet-brilliant characters whose improbably interlocked stories are punctuated by smarty-pants digressions on arcane topics like earthquake detection, Quebecois exceptionalism and the semiotics of hot-dog stands -- are, Wood says, 'perpetual motion machines' that are 'ashamed of silence' and pursue 'vitality at all costs.' He has even coined a damning phrase for the genre: 'hysterical realism.' In hyperdrive novels like David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest and Thomas Pynchon's Mason and Dixon, Wood complains, 'the conventions of realism are not being abolished but, on the contrary, exhausted and overworked.' In other words, today's novelists suffer from the literary equivalent of attention-deficit disorder, and it's way past time for the Ritalin. "

Hysterical Realism
by Daniel Zalewski
New York Times, 15 December 2002