Literary fiction and genre fiction have been seen as enemies by both writer and critic. Approach a literary reader with commercial fiction and she might look at you as if you were offering her arsenic. The same can be said about someone who only spends his time on horror. Mention literary lines and he might make a face. Dangerous stuff! Keep that away from me! But is genre really the enemy of literature with a major “L”?
Voltaire “Micromégas” is considered a seminal work of science fiction while Voltaire himself is not really someone world literature can dismiss. And how about Edgar Allan Poe, another central literary figure? Although he is classified as an American Romantic, isn’t it the inventor of the detective novel that makes him step beyond his century?
So why today’s divide? Genre fiction is now seen as commercial (even if a majority of genre authors struggle) and there are those who claim that authors there spend less time in prose and more time in plot. Genre concentrates on action; literature on psychology. Is that really true? You can’t get more commercial or more successful than Stephen King. But examine his prose and you will see someone who loves to harmonize words—and does not neglect psychology, either. I am not a Stephen King fan; I don’t read his genre. Yet, when I came across his writing, I was struck by its caliber. That, reading mysteries that go beyond their duties as whodunits, plus the fact that we live in times where cultures and styles are meeting and melting, pushed me to write this and ask: should genre fiction be seen as separate from literature or as a branch of literature?
What’s your take on this?