Review of David Shields’ book “Reality Hunger: A Manifesto”, a book declairing with nary a shade of grey that the novel is dead, which pretty much takes it to pieces for a variety of reasons. Still, The Lyric Essay looks like an interesting little form/sub-genre.
Lots of assertions get made in “Reality Hunger,” so many that it’s easy to get lost in the maze of explaining and evaluating them. It seems true to me, for example, that reality TV, memoirs and other documentary-based forms feed a popular craving for the authentic, the unscripted and the unpredictable, even though the demand for certain formulaic storylines pressures creators to tweak “reality” into a more conventionally satisfying narrative. On the other hand, I can’t endorse Shields’ opinion that too much emphasis on plot is what makes contemporary novels boring and is causing a lot of people to stop reading them. Then again, the people I know who have stopped reading fiction do seem to concur with Shields that “more invention, more fabrication” is not what they want from a book. Which is why none of them, in turn, would agree with his insistence that the distinction between fact and fiction is often immaterial.
But I’m going to set aside all of those eminently arguable points for the moment and consider the manifesto-ness of “Reality Hunger,” evident in such mottoes as, “The novel is dead. Long live the anti-novel, built from scraps,” and “Plot is for dead people.” Shields is far from alone in his taste for bold and sweeping aesthetic calls-to-arms. A manifesto makes people feel that their writing (and reading) is caught up in and contributing to some greater movement or cause — possibly one that will be looked back upon by future generations with as much admiration as we feel today toward, say, the surrealists, the beats, or the writers who clustered around the old Partisan Review.