Have you ever compared dated writers to modern ones? I decided to do just that by choosing a random recent story that I found in Narrative Magazine by Stacy Wakefield entitled “A Place Of Our Own.” The first thing I noticed about the story was her capture of common social and familial dysfunction. She speaks of getting a tattoo which is still considered taboo. She then writes, “I think I could have convinced my dad, if his disapproving wife hadn’t been looking over his shoulder and scowling” (Wakefield).
The mention of his wife shows a stepmother which captures a shift in family structure. The remark also seems to infer that the stepmother is why she left her home and became homeless in NYC. The mention of her friend Lorenzo, who is from Mexico, captures the change in America’s immigrant landscape. The older texts show a much more structured family, but there is moral decline all the same which means that morals, values, and social dysfunction were, are, and will always be a part of literature because base actions and social behaviors have not changed.
The mention of squatting as the new frontier was interesting to me as it seemed to be a nod to the 1800s when many people went west to find new homes which also inferred a sense of unspoken lawlessness. While these themes were well-developed, I did not like the ending. She writes, “I raised my arms over my head in victory and felt the first cool breeze of the evening drifting over the BQE” (Wakefield). That was the end? The Brooklyn-Queens Expressway made for an exciting scene, but what she found victorious in that situation escaped me as a reader as she had no triumphs, no victories, and no easy road ahead of her as a homeless woman. What did she learn from this experience? Anything? It ends with her beginning to play basketball. So, I was left asking myself what the point in writing about squatting if you have no story to tell, nothing to teach, or no wise lessons to impart. I found myself laughing at my audacity in the thought that many modern readers feel the same way about the classics that I prefer.
All stories should capture a moment in time (an episode if you will) of life which is why I love historical literature so much. I get the themes of homelessness, poverty, a broken family, and the social dysfunction of this sub-society existing within a greater society. I assume what the character feels is a victory is being able to survive on her own without Lorenzo, but it does not escape me that she was playing basketball with another homeless man who was known as a womanizer which made the character seem co-dependent. So, she lost and gained nothing at all. I also thought the setting could have captured more of an NYC story set in 1995. While I think the author did achieve capturing the life of a homelessness person, I would have liked to see through the character’s eyes the things she saw during her journey like the negative aspects of squatting.
Gray identities a common theme found in modern literature as, “…the presence and pleasure of a communal identity coextensive with the land” (366). The character did seem to embody this trait in modern literature. She found a way to survive, but sadly, she did not see past this lifestyle to want anything more. All writers capture the world around them regardless of fiction or non-fiction. So, in some respects, literature has not changed regarding theory and writing techniques, but publishing has become much too easy which means there is a disconnect between theory and story-telling today.
Interestingly enough, the author’s degree was in design, so I felt her knowledge of aesthetics influenced her writing style in describing scenes rather than closing on her chosen themes. The job of writers will always be to document the world as it turns so that future societies can trace the changes as they happen through careful interpretation of both older and modern texts.
What I learned from this author is that even though modern literature is not for me, there is an audience for her work. There will be other authors who will capture themes like homelessness, classism, greed, poverty, and family dysfunction at its finest. Other authors will use literature to pass on a lesson learned. That is the beauty of genre selection. There will always be different authors to fill the void.
So, is modern literature different than earlier periods? There is still a social and moral decline, and authors have adapted to that and found new ways to express them. Have writers changed? Not so much as in style, but there is a shift in the theory as this writer barely gave me act one and two. I was left looking for the climax and the resolution? I feel it is possible that many more writers are being published because of self-publishing capabilities. Theory and technique are what defines the difference between a good author and a great one. That said, the only real thing that has changed is the world in which we live.