It may be fiction but don’t make it unrealistic!

I was thumbing through the latest issue of Entertainment Weekly, the annual best & worst of the year lists, and noticed something odd about their best fiction books of the year: they’re all so incredibly mundane.  Not necessarily to say they’re boring, but none of them are set in anything more fantastical than Earth not of modern times (none of them taking place in the “future.”)  One of the more interesting aspects of fiction is the fact that one can work free of constraints of accuracy to some actual event or setting.  The more adventurous writers might even dare to write about things far removed from the reality we know or have known.  Crazy, isn’t it? So let’s how deeply these top ten novels explore the limitless potential of fiction:

  1. Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel is a historical novel set in the 16th century focused on Thomas Cromwell.  I suppose, depending on how strictly the author adheres to known facts, this thing could pass as a biography.  In other words, not too fictional.
  2. The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson is a novel set against the very real oppressive regime and politics of North Korea.  Hell, the title of the Washington Post’s review of the book proclaimed the story was “believable.” 
  3. Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter takes place in the fantastical setting of 1960’s Italy and includes such far out elements as Richard Burton, during a time he was alive and famous.
  4. Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple is something of a mystery, apparently.  I’ll give that one a pass.  It’s some kind of a genre, at least.
  5. Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain tells the story of an Iraqi war veteran struggling with  a lot of emotions while attending a Dallas Cowboys football game.  Sounds interesting, but again, not exactly going anywhere that readers aren’t somewhat familiar with.
  6. The Newlyweds by Neil Freudenberger explores international romance over the internet in the modern era.  Mind blowing, isn’t it?
  7. John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars is about teenagers with cancer falling in love and is described as “sad.” This sounds like the kind of book that, once the inevitable film adaptation is released, will have the words “inspirational” and “revelatory” thrown about.
  8. Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl is another mystery/thriller set in modern days.
  9. The “graphic novel” Building Stories by Chris Ware sounds more like a an experimental toy than a book, but hey, sometime you need to force things into a category.  It allows you to piece together the “lonely lives of people living on top of each other in a Chicago apartment building.”
  10. Finally, there’s This is How you Lose Her by Junot Díaz. It’s about a commitment fearing young man, an immigrant from the Dominican Republic.  Again, set in modern days.
I’m not saying these books aren’t good (or even great,) I can’t because not only haven’t I read them but I hadn’t even heard of any of them (I’ve been busy getting through my backlog; but even then I doubt any of these would have shown up on my radar.)  But there is a bit of sameness to these selections.  There’s so much that can be done with fiction, and it almost seems that EW (just one of several places I’ve seen this problem) intentionally turns a blind eye to other, more “genre” works. Looking at Amazon’s list of titles classified as science fiction & fantasy released in 2012 there seems to be quite a few–and I’m sure many of them are complete crap–but I have a hard time believing that absolutely none of them could have warranted a place on this list.

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