The Sympathizer and Portnoy's Complaint: One man's squid is another man's liver
(The Barnes and Noble nearest to me shelves Ellroy in mystery and Lee Child in fiction and literature. I'll mention that the next time anyone talks about literary and genre.)
Viet Thanh Nguyen's The Sympathizer, winner of this year's Pulitzer Prize for fiction and Edgar Award for best first crime novel, is one current Great Obliterate the Distinction Between Literary and Genre hope, championed as such in a recent piece that hyperventilated more frantically than most without—naturally—offering any definition of literary. If I can find a link to the damned thing, I'll post it here.
I'm about a third of the way through the novel, and here are some reasons I think it might qualify as something in addition to (not more than) a genre book:
1) It works its way into its genre-like plot, in this case espionage rather than crime, only slowly, telling us much along the way about the narrator/protagonist and his adventures in Saigon and California (if you say either character-driven or plot-driven, I'll shoot you between the eyes.)Read an interview with Viet Thanh Nguyen.
2) Its humor is not just funny, but it also sheds entertaining cultural light, Here the protagonist, a native of northern Vietnam, observing a wedding celebration in California:
"Besides the simple yet elegant cha-cha, the twist was the favorite dance of the southern people, requiring as it did no coordination."
3) It pays tribute to, or at least echoes, another novel of American ethnicity, Portnoy's Complaint, using a squid where Philip Roth used liver.
© Peter Rozovsky 2016