Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Deb Olin Unferth unfurled

There is someone in Missouri who thinks Deb Olin Unferth is a fuckup...

One of my friends let me borrow Deb Olin Unferth's short story collection Minor Robberies. It sat in my window sill until this week when I had some free time between grading papers and reading other books. I was interested because I've heard her name more than a few times and I heard she used to teach at KU not long ago. Anyway I picked the book up and read a couple stories. It doesn't take long because they're all really short, by design I guess. I was really stoned when I read the first two (La Pena, Frank Lloyd Wright), so I attributed the headache they gave me to the state of mind I was in. I put the book next to my bed and told myself I'd give it another whirl the next day.

The second whirl was as bad as the first. Once the stories were done I was confused and had immediately forgotten whatever went on in them. Everything is so circular and blase that there's nothing there. I can't identify with any of the characters, because they all appear to have been created as exercises in futility. I'm not even sure you could call these stories, they're more like anecdotes that have no intention or direction.

I googled her, she looks like a real nice lady but for the life of me I can't understand why anyone would want to read this. I'm not exactly sure what circle she moves in, but I'm thinking this might be the more academic wing of alt-lit. Her stories are about nothing, but they're not really nihilistic. I think I'd call it tedious  minimalism. I bet Tao Lin loves it.

Anyway, I put the book down after reading the story named in the title of the book. One of the problems with current trends in lit is that some of the work is immediately forgettable. Will people be reading these stories in 30 years and trying to dissect them or ascribe any ethos or meaning to them? Not that everything of importance has to be created with longevity in mind, but how can a piece of writing be of worth if it has no content? I just can't imagine anyone ever reading one of these stories and feeling inspired to do anything but...sell the book.

This is one of the reasons modern literature is such a niche community. Can we start writing for people that don't have MFAs again? Must there be two extremes, schlock like Twilight and 50 Shades of Grey that appeals to the masses at one end and abstruse, sterilized minimalism at the other?

We get it, you're very intelligent and you understand and can break all the traditional rules of story creation. The only problem is that doesn't lead to a story that I (or many others) would want to read.

I'm giving the book back to my friend and telling her SHE'S A FUCKUP.

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