Make America A Great Novel Again

There’s a Pulitizer Up For Grabs But You May Have to Go to Gitmo to Get It

And other answers to unsolicited questions

Image: Susana Fernandez

“I believe I am the one who can adequately chronicle these ridiculous times effectively! What’s your best advice to writing the Great American Trump Era Novel?” — Novelist Nat

If traditional media is the enemy of the American People, where do artists reside on the spectrum? Surely there is a sculptor out there doing work that would decimate the current administration. Would anyone see that decimating work? Possibly. If they ran out of gas next to a museum and were forced to wait inside while some staff searched for a can of gasoline. If the naked Trump statues of 2016 proved anything, it’s that there’s definitely a market for anti-Trump art. A free market, where one can wildly photograph it. But when protest art is as ubiquitous as Economist magazine covers, what could possibly be more shocking than presenting the current administration as it is? A weird mess.

There were no great 9/11 fictions. There were books that used 9/11 as a backdrop or plot device ham-handedly. The American novel is not particularly ascendant. When asked for the greatest American novelist of the last 50 years, people generally respond with Philip Roth. This is a shockingly bad answer. Portnoy’s Complaint is great. Goodbye, Columbus is pretty good. How many books can one guy write about a teacher sleeping with his students? About 20 is the answer. There’s nothing all that interesting about sleeping with students! Sure, they’re young and sexy. But they don’t know how to fuck! They also won’t get your ‘Gilligan’s Island’ jokes.

What does the American novel need to thrive? Possibly a villainous adversary in the White House. I was a great fan of all those Czech novels written behind the Iron Curtain. Kundera, Klima, Hrabal. Maybe American writers need to be oppressed to write transcendently. As poets, we’re always acting oppressed. No one pays attention to poetry. No one makes movies about poetry. But novels do have a rather well-worn path into the world, even if they never really get read. They will sit on your coffee table. Someone will ask “Are you reading that?” You’ll answer “Oh, yeah, I’ve started to. Mmm hmm. It’s supposed to be good.” Later it will be replaced on your coffee table by flowers. Or a different book. Or cheez-its.

The novels that have broken into cultural consciousness are the ones they make HBO shows and some movies about. Dystopian versions of the possible future like Hunger Games and dystopian visions of the past like Game of Thrones. Also the current fad of unreliable lady narrators in Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train.

Can you write an unreliable lady narrator dystopian book about the Trump Era? Sure. Hurry up. It might be over by the time you get it finished. Don’t adapt something you’re already writing to be the Great Trump Novel of 2017. Start over. Entirely. A novel from the point of view of Kellyanne Conway might be interesting. She is an unreliable lady narrator. But it seems like she’s already on the wane. Ivanka Trump! Now a novel from her point of view might be pure gold. Part-Lolita, part-Confederacy of Dunces. OK, so we have a main character. Is she unreliable? I’m pretty sure she only smiles in public. It’s a nice smile, but she probably saves it up for Canadian Presidents. And everyone else gets the fish eye.

Ivanka’s in on all the important meetings. In the corner probably scheming to gain the Oval Office for herself someday. She loves her dad but also knows that he’s nuts and a lech. She’s his main confidant and conscience. And from her point of view she probably is freaked out by all these lunatics that have latched onto his star.

I think the novels of today must reflect the technology of today. Filled with snaps and texts and emojis. I don’t know how to include snaps in your novel, ask your agent or editor. They probably know how to do that. I am only saying novels should have that. It’s ridiculous when novels don’t. People go to great lengths that unbelievable not to include stuff that everybody uses every day to do practically everything. And I’m not talking about cutting and pasting everything you’ve ever typed into Slack. But somehow use this technology everyone uses in some way.

Then, start deciding who should play your thinly veiled Ivanka Trump figure in the movie version. No one reads books, movies and TV are the only thing that truly matter. Jennifer Lawrence. OK, that didn’t take long and she’s perfect.

You want to make sure you make it into something that can be trilogy or a series of trilogies. The first 100 days could be the first book. Just a hair over 200 pages. And you can cut out the boring parts like signing Presidential decrees or whatever. Maybe there is an alien invasion. Of the White House. And since the place is in such disarray it’s Jared and Ivanka who figure out how to defeat the aliens. Don’t let the truth get in the way of a good story. No one in the Trump Administration ever does.

Jim Behrle lives in Jersey City, NJ and works at a bookstore.