Fiction must be aware of the income level of its characters because wealthy characters can buy and do more stuff, like fly helicopters, travel the world, wear expensive clothing, and jump into pools full of Jell-O. Fiction loves wealth because it gives the reader a rare glimpse into an unseen world.
Robert McCrum asks where are the writers “who seek artistic authenticity in poverty?”
Prices are collapsing, and the winds of austerity whistle around the world. But writers show no sign of exploring deprivation or exigency.
It used not to be this way. I’ve been reading a new book about Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer. Frederick Turner’s Renegade identifies the obsessive way in which Miller, like several writers of his generation, sought artistic authenticity in deprivation, poverty and insufficiency…
Where are the nomads now? Today, if a writer gets his or her shoes dirty, it’s as likely to be crossing a muddy field at the Hay festival, or getting caught in a tropical downpour in Galle or Jaipur. Whatever happened to the avant garde?
British references aside, I like his question. I don’t have an answer, but if someone does, I’d like to know. Or maybe an argument against his claim.
Poverty, at a surface level, seems to constrain and constrict the plot. You have to get close to dirt because all poverty is dirty. And you can’t drink the tap water and you have to take public transportation or ride a bike if your character is street smart enough to steal one and not get caught. And you always smell. And even though you don’t have much money drugs are easy to come by. And everyone is selling their bodies. And there is lots of stinky sweaty sex scenes. Because poor people don’t shower but hump like rabbits and can’t afford birth control so there’s always kids popping out.
Blimey, as the British say.