By Brett Battles
Occasionally there are events in the world at large that work their way into the fabric of the literature landscape. World War Two. The Assassination of JFK. The Vietnam War. First man on the moon, to name some big ones in the last 70 years. Most recently you could add 9/11 and the Iraq War.
I’m not trying to get into a political discussion here. We all have our own views on things, I’m sure. But what interests me, and what I want to discuss is how there are these events that not only do they work their way into our daily conversations, but, eventually, they work their way into what we read, specifically our fiction. In fact, I would be willing to bet that the true marker of the impact of a particular event is how far it seeps into that fiction.
Something like 9/11 has certainly become a prevalent topic within literature of all genres. And in my area, international/political thrillers, unless you’re writing a period piece that takes place in decades past, not acknowledging the effects of 9/11 on just about everything means you don’t have a grasp of this post September 11th world, and therefore probably don’t have a fair grasp on the story you’re trying to tell.
One of the things I’ve noticed more and more is the growing number of stories that are partly or wholly influenced by the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. And between the two, it is the war in Iraq that draws the most attention for the obvious reasons. There are at least several dozen stories that bring the war directly to the readers. Soldiers stories, stories of those left at home, political stories that deal with the decisions made.
My focus is on the thriller/mystery stories that directly or tangentially touch on the war. Lee Child’s latest Reacher novel, NOTHING TO LOSE, does this, as does Marcus Sakey’s upcoming GOOD PEOPLE (haven’t read it yet). I’ve also been lucky enough to read Sean Chercover’s new novel, TRIGGER CITY. I got an ARC at Thrillerfest, and just finished it a few hours ago. In a phrase, it’s fantastic. It doesn’t come out until October, but when it does, I recommend picking it up and putting it at the top of your reading stack. His is an example of a tangential relationship to the war, and compelling from beginning to end.
I guess the point I’m trying to make is that once an event becomes so ingrained in our literature culture, it’s fair bet its something that will not be soon forgotten.
I know, I know. You’re saying, “D’uh, Brett. I could have told you that without all this correlation between real world events and literature crap.” You’re right, you could have. But in my opinion, as stories such as CATCH 22 and THE NAKED AND THE DEAD help to paint our perception of World War Two, in fifty years from now, it is our current crop of literature that will help define our era and explain the events of our time to our descendants. Bring it a human face not possible in history books and other non-fiction tomes. And it is our literature that will determine which of those events were important to us, and which events will be all but forgotten.
Didn’t realize I was going to get so serious today, did you? Neither did I. I blame Sean Chercover. I’m on vacation this week and brought TRIGGER CITY with me. That’s what inspired this, so you can blame him, too.
So what do you think? Am I making too big of a deal about this idea…that literature is the ultimate filter of what’s important…what will be remembered? (Perhaps I should broadened that to include film as well as literature, as these days they are closely tied.) Love to hear your thoughts.
Today’s Song: Five Years by David Bowie