Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Dear Sarah Kerr: Not Cool.

Today I stumbled upon the trailer for Never Let Me Go, the film based on the novel by Kazuo Ishiguro. I haven't read Ishiguro yet. He's definitely on my To Read List, but I haven't ever had a clear idea of which book of his I wanted to read and since I've got a long To Read List, that put him much closer to the bottom.

Today the story seemed to have sought me out and I got distracted. I wanted to learn all about this story.

How to tell you the premise of the book without giving something away?? Well, you could watch the movie trailer, which does give a bit away but not too much.Or, just take my word for it that the story includes something that is non standard for "literary" (oh how I loathe the term) fiction. It's a plot point that is more common in Science Fiction.

This plot point surprised me not at all. But there are those reviewers and readers out there, the ones who only read "literary" fiction, who seem to have sealed off their imaginations entirely.


In my search I stumbled on a book review by Sarah Kerr in The New York Times, April 17, 2005. You can read the full review here.

And in the review, she said this:
"The setup is so shocking -- in such a potentially dime-store-novel way -- that it's hard to believe at first that it issued from Ishiguro's desktop. Has one of our subtlest observers gone to pulp? The novel is the starkest instance yet of a paradox that has run through all Ishiguro's work. Here is a writer who takes enormous gambles, then uses his superior gifts to manage the risk as tightly as possible. The question is what he's gambling on. Is he setting up house in a pop genre -- the sci-fi thriller -- in order to quietly upend its banal conventions..."

Banal conventions. Pulp. Ishiguro included a single, admittedly crucial, plot point that does not exist in our current world, and suddenly he's gone pulp?

I don't understand. Does imagination scare you that much, Sarah Kerr?? Is your brain truly so rigid that it must struggle to understand a concept simply because it doesn't exist in our current world?

And on the other hand, I don't understand why Sarah Kerr (and others) seem to think that just because a story involves magical/ futuristic/ imaginary elements, that the work itself is somehow less, somehow not as good. As if the authors of these works were merely street charlatans, using their imaginations to sell us fake medicine, rather than to explore an idea.

Why tell stories if we can't tell them the way we would like? Why tell them if we are afraid to explore an idea in a creative way? Why dream if in those dreams we merely go through the normal daily tasks of life?

Dreams. Stories. Each in their own way seeks to help us understand what it means to be human, what it means to live.

Maybe I would sleep better if I had normal dreams about boring, everyday things. Instead I have many nightmares. I am chased through dark cities. I am hunted on deserted islands. I am kidnapped and kept in endless nesting doll houses.

But sometimes, in those dreams, I fly.


  1. Barf. Oh, genre tags. As you know, very relevant in my personal life, and something that TIRES ME OUT every day.

    Anyway, you should read Ishiguro. He might be my #1 favorite. I've been talking about him a lot lately, for some reason. Hmm. He came up at writing group and again this morning at work. Anyway. Awesome, awesomeawesomeawesome. And as far as interesting book-to-film adaptations go, try reading REMAINS OF THE DAY and then watching the movie. Both excellent, and specimens of how different media have different strengths.

  2. Oooh I bet the college library has it, too. Nice. I just finished Ash. I've also got Inda and Sister Red on my shelf. But maybe Remains first...or after that. I haven't even BEGUN the Sirens list. Eek!

  3. Hi there! First, I'm a new follower obviously. Second... I write fantasy and let me tell ya... the looks of pity I get when I tell people this make me want to sink deeper under my rock.
    Fantasy and Sci-Fi have always gotten this reaction from the very first moment I read my first fantasy novel. I watch other authors boast proudly of their non-fantasy/sci-fi works, but those of us in this secret sect feel shame. We hang our heads, we peek around corners to make sure the mobs are not waiting with pitchforks and torches.
    Tags suck, 'nuff said.
    I look forward to more of your blogs!

  4. Oh, Caledonia Lass, WHERE do I even begin with you?? First, welcome to the blog! Second, I heart your name as I heart all Scottish things!! Third, I say, let the frightened mob of villagers come! If reading/writing SFF makes us monsters, then they can hear us roar, run away, and miss out on all the fun!!!