"...I read for entertainment, and I write to entertain.... Therefore I would like to propose expanding our definition of entertainment to encompass everything pleasurable that arises from the encounter of an attentive mind with a page of literature.
Here is a sample, chosen at random from my career as a reader, of encounters that would be covered under my new definition of entertainment: the engagement of the interior ear by the rhythm and pitch of a fine prose style; the dawning awareness that giant mutant rat people dwell in the walls of a ruined abbey in England; two hours spent bushwhacking through a densely packed argument about structures of power as embodied in nineteenth-century prison architecture; the consummation of a great love aboard a lost Amazon riverboat; or in Elizabethan slang; the intricate fractal patterning of motif and metaphor in Nabokov and Neil Gaiman's Sandman; stories of pirates, zeppelins, sinister children; a thousand-word-long sentence comparing homosexuals to the Jews in a page of Proust (vol. 3); a duel to the death with broadswords on the seacoast of ancient Zingara; the outrageousness of whale slaughter or human slaughter in Melville or McCarthy; the outrageousness of Dr. Charles Bovary's clubfoot-correcting device; the outrageousness of outrage in a page of Philip Roth; words written in smoke across the sky of London on a day in June 1923; a momentary gain in one's own sense of shared despair, shared nullity, shared rapture, shared loneliness, shared broken-heated glee; the recounting of a portentous birth, a disastrous wedding, or a midnight deathwatch on the Neva."
Yes, yes, and yes. Chabon is an omnivore. He reads *all kinds of good stuff.* He's a wanderer, an adventurer, an insatiable, curious intellect. Later in the essay, he argues the existence of genre as a marketing tool, more eloquently than I did yesterday, by comparing Mrs. Dalloway to Moby Dick wondering just how different two books have to be before it's impossible to shelve them together. He rather brilliantly points out the formulas for literary fiction, "the contemporary, quotidian, plotless, moment-of-truth revelatory story." I have to admit that my jaw dropped on the floor at this last part, and I blushed, though there wasn't anyone around to see me do it. I hadn't realized until reading this bit what the unifying thing was that I liked about a story; it's this moment-of-truth thing. Without it, I find a story dull, but I've never been able to put my finger on it before. The thing is, I find a story dull without that moment-of-truth regardless of the premise. Give me a good gothic romance or pirate story with a contemporary, quotidian, plotless moment of truth, and I'm yours. I'm not anti-genre, and anti-formula, I just prefer the formula of so-called literary fiction, but imbued with the gloss of the fabulous. I prefer stories that take a little from each paint pot, a little of this, a little of that--mundane fabulism, as it were.
Chabon goes on to talk about the tricksters in mythology--Hermes, Loki, Coyote, Eshu, Krishna, Satan, etc. "Trickster is always associated with borders, no man's lands, with crossroads and intersections. Trickster is the conveyor of souls across ultimate boundaries, the transgressor of heaven, the reconciler of opposites. He operates through inversion of laws and regulations, presiding over carnivals and feasts of fools. He is a hermaphrodite; he is at once hero and villain, scourge and benefactor." He says, "Trickster is also the god of the marketplace, of the city as intersection of converging roads and destinies, as transfer point.... Trickster goes where where the action is, and the action is in the borders between things."
This is a nice setup for a discussion about interstitial fiction, without calling it interstitial fiction. Chabon talks about Borges, Calvino, Fowles, Millhauser, Pychon, Vonnegut, John Crowley, A.S. Byatt, and Cormac McCarthy--writers who have "plied their trade in the spaces between genres, in the no man's land. These great writers have not written science fiction of fantasy, horror or westerns--you can tell that by the book jackets [from an earlier discussion where he says authors who escape the "genre" ghetto get subtler, more elegant book jackets]. But they have drawn immense power from and provided considerable pleasure for readers through play, through the peculiar commingling of mockery and tribute, invocation and analysis, considered rejection and passionate embrace, which are the hallmarks of our Trickster literature in this time of unending crossroads. Some of them have even found themselves straddling the most confounding and mysterious border of all: the one that lies between wild commercial success and unreserved critical acclaim."
Trickster is looking to stir things up, to scramble the conventions, to undo history and received notions of what is art and what is not, to sing for his supper, to find and lose himself in the act of entertaining. Trickster haunts the boundary lines, the margins, the secret shelves between the sections in the bookstore.
And that's where I want to go. Those are the places I want to haunt. Neither here nor there, this or that. I want to be delighted, to smear the lines. I'm willing to write things that belong nowhere in the hopes of discovering something wonderful. I'm not sure I want wild commercial success (though honestly, I wouldn't turn it down) but I know I want to be Trickster, dancing in the borderlands. I want to learn the magic formula of the quintessential entertaining story [well, a story that entertains *me*], absorb it, transform it, and play.