this weekend i had the pleasure of talking about A VISIT FROM THE GOON SQUAD with some people who read more genre fiction than literary fiction. a bunch of them were finding it a bit of a slog, because “it’s so sad! the guy just stands outside the library because he doesn’t have the right clothes—” “and then there’s that whole thing with the fish?!” “right, exactly.” totally valid points, but i’d never considered it a “sad” book. even though, yeah, it is pretty grim at moments.
i was astonished that i’d never had a conversation before about the overall tone of the book. when i talk about it with most customers and other booksellers, we talk about the PowerPoint chapter, or the way the narrative spirals around in terms of both time and character, or who liked it BEFORE it won the Pulitzer, etc. i wouldn’t say that GOON SQUAD is any grimmer than most of the other books on the shelf, and significantly less grim than some. and i’ve read (more than) my fair share of genre fiction, and i mean that is not exactly cheerful stuff either, so… and then i realized something:
in genre fiction, people are sad because the world is maybe going to end.
in literary fiction, people are sad because life sucks.
talk about yer different ballgames.