In our August/September issue, Randy Boyagoda expresses a fatigue that many avid readers can relate to: “I’m sick of Flannery O’Connor. I’m also sick of Walker Percy, G. K. Chesterton, J. R. R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, T. S. Eliot, Gerard Manley Hopkins, and Dostoevsky.”
One antidote to Boyagoda’s illness is to embrace the monotony of the Faith in Fiction Canon like one embraces the lectionary. An academic I know of reads through all of Lewis’s oeuvre in a continuous cycle. Others return to those authors periodically as a kind of self-examination.
All of which is fine and good, if you like that sort of thing, but isn’t there more out there? Sure, it’s a good habit to read The Brothers Karamazov every ten years as a spiritual diagnostic, but what do you read in between? And while the idea of the transhistorical communion of literary saints is pleasant, what about the timely, the lively, the actual community of living writers and readers of faith that Boyagoda longs for? Where are they? How do we find them? How do we get plugged in?
We have to be more creative about where we look for faith in fiction, and in order to do so, we have to expand our tastes beyond the high modernist aesthetic that animates much of the current Faith in Fiction Canon. One place to look is genre fiction, whose authors typically do not break through into print via the MFA/literary journal route. Some notable living writers of genre fiction are Tim Powers (horror/sci-fi: Declare and The Stress of Her Regard); Mary Doria Russell (sci-fi: The Sparrow and Children of God, which are basically one novel); Michael O’Brien (Catholic apocalyptic: Father Elijah and historical fiction: Island of the World); and the writing team of Rebecca Bratten Weiss and Regina Doman (chick-lit: Catholic Philosopher Chick Makes Her Debut). I would love to hear recommendations about Amish chick-lit.
Among the last two generations of fiction writers, Christian readers tend to have overlooked many gems. Who these days has given for a gift Alice Thomas Ellis’s stunningly odd saint’s life, The 27th Kingdom? Who has dug up the novels of the eccentric Thomist literary critic Marion Montgomery? Who knew that a subgenre of the “labor novel” existed and often placed religious practice at the center of life—quintessentially and movingly in Philip Bonosky’s Burning Valley? It’s time to review the last fifty or so years and redraw the map of faith in fiction. What else lies off the beaten path?
What suggestions do readers have for literary fiction along the lines of what Randy Boyagoda calls for at the end of his piece?