As a teenager in the late Sixties I drove my parents crazy with this conversation killer, which I used whenever I wanted to disagree, disobey or just be belligerent:
“That’s not relevant!”
My parents, you see, were part of The Establishment. They didn’t get it. They weren’t right on. They were on the wrong side of the Generation Gap. I know, I know, my perspicacity at that tender age is amazing, huh? Such acuity. Such clarity. Such precision in my thinking and speech. No wonder my parents were flummoxed.
Needless to say I later recognized the fuzziness of my beliefs. I was naïve and beguiled by the buzzwords of the era, which seemed to me to capture and express something forceful and true, but which really had no more impact than the protest signs I carried. Ever since I have been wary of buzzwords. I am suspicious of terms that are vague, especially when we are talking about the craft of fiction. Edgy. Voice. Dark.
One such term is relevant. It’s a positive quality but poorly defined. What it describes in fiction isn’t exactly clear, nor is well understood how to get it on the page. It’s a quality that novels either have or don’t, though when they do it’s good. You want to see that adjective in reviews.
Indeed, some authors attribute the success of their novels in large part to their relevance, as Erika Robuck illuminated in this recent post here on WU. Are they correct? I don’t think so, any more than that their novels became successful mostly because of their publicists, but the desirability and power of relevance clearly has a grip on fiction writers.
So let’s hone in. [Read more…]