Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Great American Novel?

On the subway I ride to work, there have been advertisements for a certain book calling itself the “great American novel.”  (Great American Novel will be referred to as “GAN” throughout the rest of this post.)  A Time of Season is written by Charles HunnaHustla, a first time novelist from Perris, California.  This is the description of his book.

 

Until his encounter with a mysterious old man who called himself Anon, Vash Rantz had been as a derelict ship, drifting upon a sea of strange occurrences. He had lived as a mental wanderer, a dreamer, and though calling himself a poet, he had sailed from one experience to another without thinking they held meta-meaning. Then Anon had compelled him to look deeper into his life; and in contemplating the "why me?" of his having been witness to certain events, Vash had seen that a poet's gift is not that he feels more, but that much more befalls him to feel.

 

Is it just me, or doesn’t this seem a little presumptuous?  Calling your own book the GAN is just a little tasteless.  I have not read the book – it sounds horribly dull, and I don’t want to waste my well earned money – so I cannot critique it.  What I can critique is how this book is portrayed. 

 

 

A Time of Season – cliché of a title, amiright? – is presented as a serious novel that not only is the greatest book written by an American in the late 200 years, but a book that will change your life.  First problem: the latter is why we have self-help books.  True, many authors insert their own philosophical ideas into their books (Orson Scott Card, for one, is quite blatantly statist in his novels).  A work of fiction, however, has rarely impacted me so much I change my own beliefs because of it.  I am more likely to be swayed by sociological or historical research.

 

Second problem: There cannot be a single GAN.  It is too hard to bring the entire American experience together into one book.  There are too many American experiences.  It is possible to have multiple GAN’s, but not just one. 

 

Furthermore, good readers – this book is not about an American experience.  It is about the main character’s self realization.  It is not about race, war, or other societal problems, as many other GAN’s are (Huck Finn comes to mind, as does Great Gatsby, Invisible Man, To Kill a Mockingbird).  It is about a single man’s personal feelings, not the great problems plaguing society.

 

Furthermore, I’m not even sure most Americans are like “derelict ships, drifting upon a sea of strange occurrences.”  I believe that most Americans tend to live, for the most part, with some sort of purpose, whether that be the pursuit of money, love, sex, world peace, religion, learning… you get the idea.  Most people tend to have a purpose in life, be it vain or altruistic. 

 

Mr. HunnaHustla, I doubt you will ever read this, but if you want to write a GAN, write about what it’s like to live in Perris, California, and the problems that you had.  If you were poor, write about what it was like to be poor, and how it affected your neighborhood.  Write about what it was like to be in school and unmotivated, and how it affected you and your friends.  Write about race relations, and how they affected Perris as a town. 

 

Most importantly, let other people say your book is a GAN.  Saying so yourself is vulgar – no one will take you seriously.  Let the critics laud you as the Ernest Hemingway of our time.  Let your readers say your book is omgthegreatesthingeverwritten.  Not yourself.   

19 comments:

  1. I've been seeing the ads for this for a while, and, in fact, ran across your blog in an attempt to find a critical review of the novel. Thus far, I haven't found any, but I think your commentary sums up my impressions fairly well. I was convinced for a while that the ads were some sort of joke.

    Thank you for putting this out there!

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  2. Thank you for your kind words, Chris! Hopefully Mr. HunnaHustla's second novel is more humble and more interesting!

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  3. We can hope, but that last name of his doesn't suggest an abundance of humility, does it? :)

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  4. How would you know what the book is about if you didn't read it? So, you are just blowing hot air and putting down the creative work of a person. Don't be so cheap and presumptuous! Buy it and read before you open your big mouth. It seems like you're just another blow hard with a blog! FYI, I passed along your url to author and you should be hearing from him.

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  5. The book, "A Time of Season," is about the author's perception of his life experiences, and what they mean to him. Calling "A Time of Season" A Great American Novel is an example of the author excercising his right to free speach, a right that he fought for and shed blood for in Viet Nam. The book took 22 years to write. Take the time to read it, and Incidentally, this blog is called "The CUTEST Blog on the BLOCK." I figure you have the right to call it that.
    Charles HunnaHustla.

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  6. You would think a professional author would know how to spell "speech."

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  7. The advertisement for the book actually reads like this: "Are you still waiting for that Great American novel? Well one has been written. A Time of Season. An original novel by Charles HunnaHustla." Note that the author does not say "THE great American Novel has been written. Rather, he says ONE has been written. Be critical, but above all, be honest.

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  8. Stephanie, who are you to tell another person what to write?

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  9. To the contrary; by saying readers are waiting for "that" great novel, it assumes there is a singular great American novel.

    Still, let the critics call the novel great and wonderful - not the publisher or the author.

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  10. Stephanie, I tried looking up the word: omgthegreatesthingseverwritten. I couldn't find it. Where did you get such a word?

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  11. Different Anonymous here, but I think a book about the perception of personal life experiences over a span of 22 years is called a journal, not one of the GAN's. I think that is an odd marketing strategy, however Mr. HunnaHustla, it is true that as an American you have the right to free speech, and I thank you for your service to our great nation, where we all have the right to differing opinions.

    Stephanie, I enjoyed your analysis of the book's marketing, and I do not think this particular strategy would capture positive attention from me at all. I also agree that a GAN should touch on some sort of moral or social issue. Personally, I think plot and message are two entirely different things, and a good novel will have both elements, while a great novel will intertwine them.

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  12. You talk like a fool, Stephanie.

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  13. Stephanie, where can I pass along my copy of the book to you?

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  14. LMAO this is too much!!!

    "Are you still waiting for that Great American novel?" is the same as some right-wing nut-ball asking, "Is Obama a communist?" There is a clear implication there.

    Also all you "Anonymous"-es, probably with the exception of "Different Anonymous", are clearly one of his buddies. Not helping Mr.HunnaHustla right now for sure. (I love how Xavier's link doesn't even go to an actual website! Not shady at all! To quote Benjamin Franklin "Those who live in glass houses should STFU!"(In case I need to clarify as it seems I must I added that last part in myself. I wouldn't call it a GAN though))

    Mr.HunnaHustla, you have a right to free speech but you don't have the right to advertise something without proof of what it is or isn't. Formulating it as a question is just a way of indirectly misleading potential readers, and most critical thinking readers (which are probably your major demographic) will be immediately turned off. Why do you think there are so many legal disclaimers after an advertisement? Because you legally can not knowingly mislead the customer.

    What the advertisers of your book just did is mislead your potential readers by indirectly giving them an expectation that NO book can achieve. Some people would say Mark Twain, John Updike or Ray Bradbury were all hacks.

    Sorry, guess Stephanie and I are just talkin' like a fool.

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  15. Wow, that certainly was an interesting evening!!! I can't believe grown persons resort to Jr. High bullying tactics, and then expect me to want to read the novel. I don't read books that call themselves "deep" or "important." I'm not going to read something when the author is trying to change my worldview, and I feel that is one or Mr. HunnaHustla's goals. Which is not to say I am a shallow person - I simply enjoy serious nonfiction better than serious fiction.

    In conclusion, this has been quite entertaining, and any future anonymous comments will be deleted. Have something to say to me? Leave your name please. I'm obviously not anonymous - and neither should be you.

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  16. Stephanie, the marketing campaign for my next novel, "Death Insurance," will be coming to a subway car soon. I appreciate you taking the time to post your comments regarding "A Time of Season," and I wish you well.

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  17. There's a commercial on television that features a farmer named Martinez who grows potatoes for McDonald's restaurants. In that commercial, Mr. Martinez states, and without reservation: "I grow the potatoes that make the best french fries in the world."

    Mr. Martinez can make that statement because whether his potatoes "make the best french fries in the world" is simply his opinion. Therefore, no one is going to raid his farm looking for evidence that his potatoes make the best french fries in the world. McDonald's does not have to prove that its restuarants make the best french fries in the world. Why? Because it is simply their opinion that they make the best french fries in the world.

    I agree with what 'A Different Anonymous' says in his comment, which is: "plot and message are two entirely different things, and a good novel will have both elements, while a great novel will intertwine them."

    I have read "A Time of Season." It has both a plot and a message, and not only does Mr. HunnaHustla show them to be two entirely different things, but he entertwines them as well, which, according to 'A Different Anonymous,' is what makes for a great novel. And because Mr. HunnaHustla is an American, that combination makes for what Stephanie calls a GAN: A Great American Novel.

    Stephanie, you have threatened to delete any future anonymous comments. That, of course, is your right, but that is also censorship, and that, of course, is un-American.

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  18. The telling thing about the controversy created by Stephanie's post concerning Mr. HunnaHustla's book is that it shows the power of the Internet; and I say that because at least one potential buyer of the book, Crish P., was enfluenced by her post to take a negative view of the book, knowing that Stephanie hadn't even read it.

    What I liked about A Time of Season is that it contained strong, powerful, female characters, and that its message, though unusual, is chilling.

    Stephanie, I think you've started something that will launch your blog to the forefront.

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  19. I would like to point out that I have alwas said that I never was critiquing the book. I don't want to read it. I never have. The marketing is what I didn't like.

    FYI - "strong female characters" can be found throughout literature. That's not exactly the greatest selling point.

    As for chilling messages, practically every organization, every movement, has one. From "Never Let Me Go" to "Uncle Tom's Cabin," Greenpeace to the Heritage Foundation, Mitt Romney to Ron Paul, one thing remains the sane: things will be bad if these people/organizations don't get what they want. So, again, not a a great selling point. It's just another dire warning.

    Look - if "A Time of Season" was advertised as quite entertaining, funny, and sogoodyoucan'tputthebookdown, I would totally read it. If I am reading fiction, I want to be entertained. Sure, subtly slip a serious message in there. That's fine.

    But if you want to convince me there is something out there about to get me, you need proof. It needs to be nonfiction. You can't do it with "my heart feels such and such.". Unless there are verifiable facts and references, I'm not interested.

    And I think that's what a lot of people are missing here. I'm not out here to destroy anyones career or sales numbers. I'm simply speaking up about being told this is one of the greatest books ever written!! I wasn't born yesterday, and I don't appreciate being marketed to like this.

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