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    the new novel, part II

    So I've been kicking around a variety of books for that "New Novel" course I'll be teaching this fall, and some things are beginning to fall into place.

    I'm definitely going with Patrik Ourednik's Europeana (2005) as my "experimental-form" novel; it not only pushes the boundaries of what could be considered a novel (in a way that will be fruitful for discussion), but it also gives a big recap of global 20th-century events and thus sets up some useful themes for us to work with, here in the early days of the 21st.

    I'd like to follow this up with either Lynda Barry's Cruddy (2000) or Alicia Erian's Towelhead (2006), as sort of a way to look at how those 20th-century forces impact powerless people, specifically using the figure of the adolescent girl to get at this. Of the two, I marginally prefer Cruddy, in part because its status as an "illustrated novel" fulfills my interest in having a "hybrid" book on the list: it opens up a juncture where we can talk about the critical rise of the graphic novel over the last ten years or so. Plus Towelhead has a lot more sexuality in it, and there's only a certain amount of that kind of stuff that I feel comfortable dragging into the classroom.

    I also wanted a classically-structured novel, but one which deals thematically with some of the "big issues" that the class increasingly looks to be built around: I'm currently reading Ann Patchett's Bel Canto (2001), which tells a story about terrorists raiding a high-class dinner party in South America as a possible candidate there. Patchett sees human interaction as being capable of generating real beauty, and the book is clearly focused on locating these moments even in the midst of violent crisis. Used too liberally, this could descend into Pollyanna-ism, and the book is definitely running that risk, but it might be a nice antidote to follow the bleakness of Cruddy. [Still a little tempted to wedge in William Gibson's Pattern Recognition (2005) instead, although this would break my 50/50 gender breakdown.]

    [I'd also consider dropping the "traditional" novel entirely in favor of another hybrid, if I could find another good one by a female writer... the obvious choice here is Carole Maso's utterly fascinating novel The Art Lover, which I'd love to re-read, but it seems a stretch to call something originally published in 1990 a "new" novel.]

    And finally, I wanted something "outside" the realm of the literary novel, preferably a graphic novel or piece of genre work: I'm leaning here towards Colson Whitehead's great science-fiction-ish novel about elevator repair, The Intuitionist (2000), although I'm also still considering including a graphic novel in this slot, specifically Paul Pope's science-fiction-ish 100%. [One advantage of 100% is that it's a quicker read, and I'm concerned about having enough time to teach the writing elements of the course if I'm also dealing with four long-ish novels.]

    Almost decision-making time! Anyone who wants to try to sway me, speak up!

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    Friday, August 15, 2008
    10:34 AM


    I'd highly recommend, as a representative of the "new" graphic novel, Tom Neely's remarkable The Blot, which is a pretty quick read and which is one of the most original pieces of graphic fiction I've seen lately. It also sounds like it would fit in well with some of the themes you're exploring, as it deals with the possibility of communication and connection in a bleak, disconnected world.

    I'd also recommend Dash Shaw's Bottomless Belly Button, which might be a bit intimidating as a 700-page brick (one reason I'd go with Neely instead) but which is a much quicker read than you'd expect. It deals with a disintegrating family structure and uses a wide array of graphical and narrative techniques to convey the different experiences of the members of this family as they gather to memorialize their parents' divorce. It's another wonderful and incredibly original book that clearly points the way towards the future of the graphic novel.
    What kind of writing projects are you doing for this course?
    You might also look at The Invention of Hugo Cabret . It's classified as a YA book, but it's got a lot going on and would also be a "hybrid" novel.
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