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Fiction Rediscovers the Social World


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At the Los Angeles Review of Books, Sarah LaBrie surveys a handful of recent novels by US authors that engage with major social and political problems plaguing our crisis-ridden reality today. This social engagement, writes LaBrie, is a new tendency in US fiction, which has long been preoccupied with individual existential anxieties. LaBrie singles out the novels The Overstory by Richard Powers and The Mars Room by Rachel Kushner, among others. Here’s an excerpt:

If My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh serves to capture a moment in history, novels like The Mars Room and The Overstory might be examples of a kind of future fiction, one that teaches readers to think of themselves as elements of larger systems. They might help set the foundation for a literary fiction that regains its place in a political conversation from which it has long been dismissed. If Powers’s and Kushner’s novels do nothing else, they show us that fiction, more powerfully than any other technology, provides a map for navigating the world even at its most confusing and unbearable.

Javier Marías once wrote that “for every novelist there is the possibility — infinitesimal, but still a possibility — that what he is writing is both shaping and might even become the future he will never see.” And the world needs reshaping. As Powers explained in a recent interview, “One way or another, we humans are on our way to becoming something else. […] We will learn, as Thoreau says, to resign ourselves to the influence of the earth, or we will disappear.”

Image: Novelist Rachel Kushner. Via The Telegraph.