The study of Narrative is still considered important to the study of literature. Much like diagramming a sentence, you can create a visual (or algebraic) representation of the narrative structure of any novel or extended work of prose. Try this one:
Dad screws up and Mom packs up the Kid to move far away and begin a new life. They find themselves in an enchanted land and the Kid meets the local equivalent of Prince Charming. Despite her clumsiness, the Prince and the Kid fall in love but the Prince’s evil advisors feel that an unattached prince is better to profit from the kingdom’s raging female hormones so the Kid is hustled off the scene. Sometime later the Kid is selling cookies at the market when the Prince arrives, sees his true love, and courageously announces his love to all the world. The Prince and the Kid clinch over crumbled cookies … The End.
Decidedly a juvenile novel and about as edgy as an after-school special, Maps To the Stars (by Jen Malone) is a good example of a well-crafted cliché-riddled, safe entertainment that pervades the shiny bookcases of our over-protected children. No wonder the younger generations are seeing themselves as privileged and needing more and more … more.
Remember when you learned that even the simplest of nursery rhymes was actually a very adult reference to some awful and scary things. There’s that common game that little children play: Ring around the rosies, a pocket full of posies, ashes .. ashes, all fall down. When you grew up and learned that the reference was to the plague that was killing thousands every day (read DeFoe or Pepys) it no longer seemed so festive.
When I was very young I had several typical juvenile books on my bookshelf. They were old so they might have originally been my parents’ books or possibly musty old bargains from the Goodwill store (home of discount picture puzzles with missing pieces). I can remember one period where I was home sick in bed and reading a local author, L. Frank Baum. These original editions were periodically adorned with illustrations, in either pen & ink or full color, depicting a scene from the narrative or a rendition of an imaginative character and these images gave me nightmares. The Wizard of Oz might have been kiddie-lit but it sure scared me.
As the years progressed, I read many works that I found disturbing and many works which didn’t have a happy ending smooching in a bakery truck.
At one time I sponsored or shared in several online reading groups but too often I had to contend with arguments suggesting that the true function of literature was to entertain and if a novel was not entertaining, did not bring joy to your life, didn’t include at least one character who could easily be the reader’s best friend, then the novel was not worth reading. I believe that if you want to be entertained you can turn on the television but if you want to be enlightened .. challenged .. made to think .. then you will find beaucoup de opportunity in books.
That’s not to say that reading an entertaining book is a bad thing to do, but let’s not make entertainment the prime value of literature.
Maps To the Stars is actually well-written and, assuming you are a 14 year old girl, juicily entertaining. I recognize its value. It’s right up there with the latest issue of Tiger Beat.
Although, after reading the book, I am intrigued by the possibility that David Cronenberg might has given the movie version a decidedly abnormal twist.