NYTBR Embraces Collapse of Genre Distinctions

By Neal Comment

Pleasing as Gary Kamiya’s review of Scott Smith’s The Ruins is—since, unlike Michiko Kakutani, Kamiya knows better than to reveal key plot secrets in a review—it raises an interesting question. “The Ruins is superior horror literature, but it does not entirely overcome the pile-driving limitations of the genre,” Kamiya writes. “But its relentless bleakness—it is almost clinically bloody—played out at novel length is also what sets it apart from other books of this kind.”

Well, wait a minute: Didn’t the Review just appoint Terrence Rafferty the horror fiction columnist? So why isn’t he covering The Ruins? Then again, maybe the novel’s such perfect evidence of the literary merit of genre fiction—on the principle that Knopf, like God, doesn’t make no junk—that it renders genre-based criticism superfluous. Heck, that might explain why Nick Sagan’s Everfree is discussed in a collection of short fiction reviews rather than being delegated to the paper’s usual science fiction reviewer. If so, it’s a welcome trend—maybe they’ll embrace high fantasy in time to review the next George R.R. Martin novel!

Speaking of timeliness, though, we rib the NYTBR a lot for lagging behind the rest of the culture, so it’s nice to be able to commend Rachel Donadio’s essay on The Long Tail, which calls upon a few publishing executives to explain why backlists matter and why the “long tail” isn’t necessarily the publishing industry’s best friend. Question: Does this mean the Review won’t be reviewing the book? Not that it matters much. I just checked Google, and the Times has already used the phrase “long tail” roughly 500 times, and only a handful of them about cats. You might say the concept has reached its tipping point.