Lev Grossman: Chickenhead of the Month

Time, one of the silliest magazines that Americas must endure, profiles Michael Chabon and suggests that it’s somehow a bad thing for a novelist to be both literary and genre-centric. Missing the boat completely on the recent McSweeney’s Enchanted Chamber of Astonishing Stories, Lev Grossman proceeds to decry the collection as “the promiscuous atmosphere of one of those speakeasies where socialites slum with gangsters in an effort to mutually increase everybody’s street cred,” but fails to cite a specific example that explains this purported circlejerk (not even mentioning the involvement of Julivats and Waldman).

Grossman seems truly astonished to learn that Joyce Carol Oates is capable of writing genre stories. Never mind that she’s been turning out speculative and gothic fiction for years, with regular appearances at The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, among others. For that matter, Margaret Atwood’s best-known novel, The Handmaid’s Tale, might be styled “science fiction.” Even more unintentionally amusing is Grossman’s labeling of China Mieville as part of “the gangster side of the equation.” Is it because he wrote an amusing story about shifting streets?

Grossman seems desperate to find a fusion, but I suspect he didn’t read the collection when he penned this malarkey. For one thing, he references stories that appear near the beginning of the book. And the fusion angle he’s striving for couldn’t be any more clearer than Ayelet Waldman’s excellent story about a ghostly baby, which successfully maneuvered maternal angst (the stuff of literary kudos) into a spooky template.

Grossman’s uneducated take in a major weekly magazine is a pity. Because instead of dwelling upon the differences, he reinforces his own thesis: that Chabon’s noble effort is more of a stunt than a literary experiment. He couldn’t be more wrong.


  1. What I found interesting–and rather weird–is that he didn’t bring up his own “slumming” effort, the literary thriller CODEX that was released earlier this year.

  2. Excellent call, Ed. Oates is one of the contemporary writers included in the Norton Anthology of Gothic Stories (it’s the story about the goat girl) — and yeah, it wasn’t surprising to see her there 12 or so years ago.

    I liked the Waldman story a lot too — I thought it was really effective and fearless. It fascinates me how if you tell a group of people to tell a scary story they will come up with everything from star collisions to dead babies as subjects.

    And Sarah, I was going to bring up Codex too.

  3. I mean that 12 or so years ago to be italicized. You know, to underscore how long she’s been hypergraphically churning out the Gothic along with her other stuff.

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