Marlon James and Viet Thanh Nguyen: Why is one's work considered crime fiction and the other's not?
That novel, Viet Thanh Nguyen's The Sympathizer, I wrote:
"includes two killings of the kind that presumably would be investigated by local authorities if they happened in the real rather than a fictional California, but there is no such investigation in The Sympathizer. Nor do the protagonist's reaction to and thoughts about those crimes constitute a major component of the narrative. Significant, yes. Thematically dominant, no.Yet the MWA gave the novel an Edgar Award that the author can hang on his wall next to his 2016 Pulitzer Prize for fiction.
"Rather, the novel's generic affinities are from the very first sentence with the espionage novel, which has long led a comfortable co-existence with crime fiction. Still, I suspect that few readers will regard The Sympathizer as a spy story. Indeed, the subject does not come up in an interview with Nguyen included as an appendix to the Grove Press trade paperback edition of the novel. Rather, the book is a political novel, a novel of immigration, a novel about Vietnam, a novel about the United States, about the perils and exigencies of moving between the two, about the equivocal (at best) nature of revolutions, and, most important, about the illusory nature of binary opposition, whether between American and Vietnamese, European and Asian, communist and its opposite, or what have you."
A Brief History of Seven Killings, on the other hand, is set in motion by a real-life crime reimagined: the 1976 assassination attempt against Bob Marley. It includes scenes of gang and drug violence in Jamaica and New York, and its story of a crime's ripple effects is something like that told in James Ellroy's A Cold Six Thousand or perhaps Don Winslow's Savages, yet James has no Edgar or Dagger Awards to hang next to the 2015 Man Booker Prize he won for A Brief History ...
I don't suppose it matters much in which category one places these two fine books, but I wonder why Nguyen's achieved purchase in the crime fiction world while James' achieved none, at least in that part of the crime fiction world that gives out awards. Did Nguyen's publishers make a conscious decision to promote the book as crime? Did James' make a conscious decision not to do so? And does it matter?
© Peter Rozovsky 2016