Normally I’m a very open-minded person when it comes to writers in Canada. I’m of the mindset that getting as many Canadian voices as possible out into the publishing arena is a good thing, given that it ensures a relatively healthy and dynamic series of stories being told by Canadians, for Canadians (and when the stories are really good, for the world).
I have a bone to pick over a certain writer named Alice Munro. She’s a Canadian author, lives in rural Ontario, has published numerous short stories over the past 40 years and is quite talented. Yet she represents a lot of what is wrong with the institution of CanLit.
There’s a kind of generational divide in Canada over authorship these days. Whether it be the difference between an urban fantasy ride of the likes of Russell Smith or the neo-pastoralism of Alice Munro, I’m a young person who desperately believes that we’re constantly rewarding authors of middle age and beyond who earned the respect of critics a long time ago and not enough of the younger crowd of authors. These people include Smith (whom is a brilliant writer and a Queen’s graduate), Evan Solomon, Derek McCormick, Lynn Crosbie and their ilk.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve enjoyed some of Alice Munro’s stories. However, when the literary establishment in Canada only seems interested in promoting safe, predictable stories that don’t challenge any conventional literary traditions, something is wrong. This is not to say that safe and predictable are always bad (honestly, you need variety in your literary diet) but what are books for if they don’t challenge you and entertain you?
There is, as usual, the debate over whether these “challenging” novels will sell as much as stories by the likes of Munro. CanLit needs books like Munro’s in order to survive. They may not be especially ground-breaking or original, but they are well-told for what they are and sell exceptionally well. Yet no publishing company in Canada has ever gotten rich off playing it safe all the time (mind you, few publishing houses in Canada are rich, period). You have to take risks to make money sometimes, and if commerce is the goal of publishing in Canada (and let’s not lie, publishing is a business like any other), it takes a combination of stories like Munro and Smith to have a truly dynamic and growing publishing industry.
So let’s celebrate people like Munro, yes. But celebrate our youth even more. We’re the future of the industry.