Readers who enjoyed yesterday's post about Dana Gioia and his article on Catholic writers might be interested in Paul Elie's thoughts from last year on a subject in the same family.
In the Dec. 19, 2012 New York Times, in an op-ed titled, "Has Fiction Lost its Faith?" Elie cross-examined the current state of literature and found it missing something truly crucial:
I am the author of a book about four 20th-century American Catholic writers, and I am often asked who their successors are. Usually I demur. I observe that we look in the wrong places. I point out that Graham Greene and J.R.R. Tolkien were considered baffling in their time. I cite Matthew Arnold to the effect that ours is a critical age, not a creative one. I reflect that literature is created by individuals, not compelled by social forces. Now I am writing a novel with matters of belief at its core. Now I have skin in the game. Now I am trying to answer the question: Where has the novel of belief gone?
"Christian belief," he said, figures in the literature of our time "as something between a dead language and a hangover." According to Elie, the prospects are not looking up. As a reader, "you hope to find the writer who can dramatize belief the way it feels in your experience, at once a fact on the ground and a sponsor of the uncanny, an account of our predicament that still and all has the old power to persuade. You look for a story or a novel where the writer puts it all together. That would be enough. That would be something. That would be unbelievable."
Perhaps the novel Elie is working on will be that book; perhaps Elie will deliver the classic he searches for. Or perhaps we must wait for the conversion of Ian McEwan. After all, he did confess a "recent reversion to faith," albeit of a different sort. Ah, but it's a start.
Elie, author of The Life You Save May be Your Own (a must-have for Catholics and writers and especially Catholic writers) recently started a blog. It's titled "Everything that Rises" and can be found at www.everythingthatrises.com.