The Flight from NYC & The Possibility of Local Stories

Justin Patrick Moore's picture

"By television and other public means, we are encouraged to believe that we are far advanced beyond sitting till bedtime with the neighbors on a Kentucky ridgetop… most of us no longer talk with each other, much less tell each other stories. We tell our stories now mostly to doctors or lawyers or psychiatrists or insurance adjusters or the police, not to our neighbors for their (and our) entertainment. The stories that now entertain us are made up for us in New York or Los Angeles or other centers of such commerce." --Wendell Berry

I wasn't sure where to put this one... so opted for storytelling because of the above quote... but it could just as easily be in a circle for home & security or community & systems.

This Berry quote was in an article about the impact of C19 on NYC and it's culture -and all the people leaving NYC. Outside of the political aspect of the above article, I thought it was interesting in it was talking about migration away from the big city and also about how local cultures could reemerge in the wake of NYC dominating cultural life in the USA.

With that gap in the public consciousness, it's a time of opportunity for those of us who wish to tell different stories, stories about places and people other than those in NYC.

Working at a library I see lots of pseudo-literary fic and it's all set in either NYC and its burbs, or LA, it seems. I gag on the summaries of the books. Looking forward to seeing more (bio)regional character emerging in deindustrial fiction and fiction in general.

I loathe those kinds of books.

But genre fiction is also struggling, at least as far as much trad pub is concerned.
I've got the most recent issue of Book Page, courtesy of the Hershey Public Library, on the table. It's stuffed with reviews that make me say "I don't want to read this."

Why? Because I don't need the lecture, I've got a low-enough opinion of humanity as it is and I don't need it to go lower, I've already read that story 1000 times before, and I'd like something different please.

Indie fiction has its troubles, but there is more variety, as long as you can surf through the tsunami of swill.

There's not enough granular fiction, local stories, as though the big city is the only place possible.

I think of sci-fi where you have galaxy-spanning adventures and the writer assumes everyone will know you and speak your language and eat raspberry yogurt! (For real, in Jessie Mihalik's recent trilogy).

I always ask myself when faced with fiction that assumes the world is tiny:

Who is the president of Paraguay?
Can you find Paraguay on a map?

If that's too hard, who is your local county commissioner?
Can you locate your county on a map?

Most of us don't even know what's happening in our neighborhood, let alone across our county.

Justin Patrick Moore's picture

I hear you about genre fiction too. Much of the new stuff is frankly boring. All the tropes seem used up. Not that it's all bad, but I see less I find I'm interested in reading than I used to, and go back to old faves.

I like the term granular fiction, and I think that is something good to represent.

Very true that we don't know about what's going on in different parts of the world, or our own neighborhoods.

Ken's picture

My Uncle Jim, the family patriarch, born in '29 at the beginning of the Great Depression, who built a ranching legacy for his family in North Idaho, once visited the east coast (in the early '90's if I recall correctly) He went to Boston and NYC, Philadelphia and DC. Later, I asked him what he thought of the Bos-Wash strip.

He paused to reflect and replied: "Well... it's like a goddamned anthill."

I live just as far as I could get (in the lower 48) from the anthill.

Justin Patrick Moore's picture

I never been to the anthill. When I was near it, I was always driving around it, usually going to or from Maine, where I have some family and love to visit. I always wanted to visit, but now I'm not so sure.

David Trammel's picture

It wasn't that long ago that the topic of whispered conversation and family gossip was the goings on of your local township and community. Sometimes what was going on in your State but rarely anything regional or even national. And for countries not your own, never.

Anyone remember the song "Harper Valley PTA"?

The Internet has provide us with a glimpse of far off lands at the cost of our participation (and control) of our lives in the Local. I'd love to chalk it up to some capitalistic conspiracy but I suspect its just marketing forces run amok.

As our global connectivity gets priced our of reach, I suspect that backyard fence conversations will get more interesting.

Justin Patrick Moore's picture

I do remember Harper Valley PTA. Then there is the parody, the Ballad of Jim and Tammy... I remember that too!

I think our neighbors and that kind of old school local gossip can add some real color to our fictions. The characters we know are characters we can put into our stories. It will give it that nuance so often missing from cardboard cutouts plaguing a lot of commercial fiction in the big publishing world.

We have pretty good neighbors here that I've gotten to know pretty well over the years. At the same time our neighborhood has gotten gentrified in the 17 years I've lived there, really ramping up the past 5-6 years. Now there are a lot of people on the block that I don't know. I still like our neighborhood though, even if I don't relate as well to the doctors and other folks who came and moved in and put up privacy fences ;)