f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n: Day 4 of <em>The DaVinci Code</em>--Something About Being Popular Written From Inside a Sudafed Haze

f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n

Thursday, January 08, 2004

Day 4 of The DaVinci Code--Something About Being Popular Written From Inside a Sudafed Haze

As mentioned yesterday, B. R. Myers is not fan of pretentious literary-for-literary sake fiction. You won't find him championing mindless genre books either. Instead, Myers seems to be asking a very simple question: "Why can't there be intelligent books with fantastic plots, well-developed characters, fine writing--the whole ball of wax?"

A very legitimate question.

Myers answers it by looking to the past. In his excerpt he lists a number of books I'd never heard of before, excepting only the works of John O'Hara. I answer it with newer books like The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Klay by Michael Chabon, Carter Beats the Devil by Glen David Gold which are only two recent examples of emerging writers who appear to have what it takes to merge form with plot.

Dan Brown, unquestionably a talented writer, fails however to meet these expectations in DaVinci. His book falls into the old paradigm that says popular fiction need only focus on an engaging plot, an intriguing premise, and not worry about the rest. Popular fiction need act mostly as the treatment for the inevitable film (which, it appears, will be directed by Ron Howard in DaVinci Code's case).

Does this lessen the merit of such a book? In a way, it must. It doesn't relegate it to irrelevance, but life is short and those books I truly cherish are the ones that make the gargantuan effort of mastering all that novels can offer. I think Brown's novel failed mostly in two areas. First, I felt that, for all his research, his less than upfront presentation of the facts pushes the novel out of the realm of credible to pop-speculation. I suppose this is a weird complaint for a book that, among other things, purports that Jesus was married, but in failing to be square with the known history he turns the book's important themes into nothing much more than the front page a tabloid newspaper.

The second frustration I mentioned on Tuesday and that is two-dimensional characters. I won't go into any further detail about that.

Dan Brown knew he had a page-turning yarn when he uncovered all the speculation and conspiracy surrounding DaVinci's art, the Priory of Scion, and other bits of his story. His choice is to present them superficially, by presenting them as pure fact without any of the characters hardly delving at all into the gigantic implications such revelations would mean.

But let's be fair, in doing so is Dan Brown much different from much of the CBA fiction that finds its way to the shelves? Nope. Too much of our fiction is "popular" in the pejorative literary sense of that word. It chooses paper-thin treatment of deeply complex issues, creates either hollow men or straw men for characters, and simply serves to reaffirms what its readers all ready believe.

I'll blame the medicine for my mood (this is as negative as I want to get on this site) but we simply can't let ourselves be satisfied with the popular. I wish Dan Brown hadn't. I hope you won't be either. Dare to be unpopular--we might all be the better for it.