Earlier this week Slate published an article which declared that subtlety sucks and it’s time for more heavy-handed art. I’m not going to address the nuances of this argument (besides, others are already kicking back), but I have been thinking about this, largely for work-in-progress reasons (which will be #2 in the following list).
1. One of the reasons, in my opinion, that much of Orson Scott Card’s later work is weaker than his earlier stuff is that he gets too heavy-handed, thematically. Take Ender in Exile. Large sections of it read like The Author Telling Us What to Think. Now compare that to, say, Ender’s Game and Speaker for the Dead—which choose not to rub your nose in theme—and we see how vital some subtlety is.
2. My frequently-postponed-for-other-projects alt-history novel, as it grows and develops in my mind, turns more and more into an opportunity to soapbox what we should think about X and how we should talk about Y. Et cetera. I worry that by the time I finish it, I’ll have written a polemic rather than a novel.
On the other hand,
3. One of the good things / bad things about Mette Harrison’s The Bishop’s Wife was its willingness to be very direct thematically. The Role of Women in the Church! Issues with Sex-based Leadership! And, I understand, the new novel (His Right Hand, coming out next month) will prominently feature a transgender character (Soho Crime—why haven’t you sent me a review copy?). On the one hand, a bit too on-the-nose for 2015? On the other hand, isn’t that an absurd complaint? What else is fiction for?
In conclusion, as if I’m ready to draw conclusions,
I’m leaning towards Fiction Ought to Be Heavy-handed in Topic and Theme, with Subtlety in Execution. We should have no confusion as to what we’re talking about. We should not be certain what conclusions have been reached.
“Literature,” after all, as Roland Barthes said, “is the question minus the answer.”