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March 24, 2007



The dissolute, shiftless youth is not a new trope, though of course Thackeray would have written with a clear (and not particularly nuanced) sense of disapproval. When I read about characters like these I tend to wince a lot. 'What the heck do you think you're doing?' I say to the notional people, and I frequently don't get an answer in modern novels. I get the idea that it's considered more literary to leave things unresolved and complicated, possibly to lend verisimilitude by mirroring our unresolved world. It's not nihilism, per se, as I think the authience is welcomed to learn something from it, but the content is left indeterminate so different people learn different things. It may also be considered normative humility.

The books I'm writing (multiple parts of the same overall story) do carry a few moral projects - I am, after all, a sort of ideologue - but don't aspire to anything like literary grandeur. I describe them as 'trash fiction, but hopefully the better sort of trash' which allows me the latitude to be a little preachy as long as I fulfill my primary goal of entertaining. In a modern literature, I think it can be a similar story, except the primary goal is to be subtle, realistic, surprising or something along those lines, and it can be difficult to reconcile that with unambiguous moral content. That said, the truly sublime books (in my eyes) do manage it at least in part, generally by reflecting the veiled moral lessons of life back the reader with some of the murk drawn away. The author doesn't so much assert as depict.

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