May 8, 2018

Between A Well-Received Novel And A Literary Phenomenon

It is probably Donald Trump’s fault that so few recent works of fiction have become events, in the way that “A Little Life,” by Hanya Yanagihara, did in 2015, or “The Underground Railroad,” by Colson Whitehead, did a year later (or “Cat Person”, by Kristen Roupenian, did in December 2017). By event I mean: lovingly curated quotations saturate Instagram; every book club you know is reading it (your mother’s, your neighbour’s); breathless reviews crop up in publications better known for their economics coverage; magnetic young people with interesting piercings peruse it in coffee shops; friends text you to ask what page you’re on; etc.

What closes the distance between a well-received novel and a literary phenomenon?

The spaceship must be ingeniously made, of course; but then mysterious hyperdrives—luck, fate, the fixations of “the moment,” whether or not the book was published before 2016—would appear to kick in.

-Katy Waldman, New Yorker, April 12, 2018

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