Noting that this year's "100 Notable Books" list is balanced evenly between fiction and nonfiction, New York Times Book Review editors (i.e., Sam Tanenhaus) aver that
This indicates, most obviously, that the past 12 months have been an especially strong period for fiction. But it also suggests, perhaps, that novelists and short-story writers have begun to rediscover the uses of narrative and to find new ways of making their imagined creations more relevant to our complicated moment.
Since I haven't noticed that 2006 was "an especially strong period for fiction" (nor a particularly weak one, either), I have to conclude that this is Tanenhaus's way of encouraging novelists to "rediscover the uses of narrative" (old-fashioned storytelling = a better chance of getting a NYTBR review).
Frankly, I find this critical tic of Tanenhaus's--American fiction has abandoned narrative--rather baffling. I defy him to look at the literary fiction shelves (even allowing him to walk past the genre aisles) at Borders and Barnes and Noble and point out what books do not in fact dispense narrative in fairly heavy doses. Perhaps the powers that be in these stores occasionally set out an experimental novel or two that engage in wacky distortions of time or narrative structure, but could Tanenhaus really seriously contend that most of the displayed items do not harbor storytelling of a fairly recognizable kind behind their gaudy jackets? For most writers and readers, "story" and "novel" remain more or less synonymous terms. Perhaps Tanenhaus believes these stories are too "literary"? Too heavily concealed behind daubs of prose and a facade of "psychological realism"?
Although Tanenhaus ultimately does reveal his storytelling preference in affirming those writers who have managed the feat of "making their imagined creations more relevant to our complicated moment." This has been Tanenhaus's mantra ever since he took over the Book Review. We live in "complicated times," and only those books that contribute to the "national discussion" of our various complications are deemed worthy of inclusion in the country's ostensibly premier book review section. Never mind that this reduces the value of books--even works of fiction--to their potential role in continuing onto the book review pages the same kind of blather to be found in the rest of the New York Times, and in most of the larger American newspapers as well. (Although perhaps I shouldn't trivialize it quite so much by calling it "blather"; it's precisely this NYT-style blather that helped get us in the current "complicated" mess in Iraq.) Let's invite the same fools and charlatans who dominate the news and opinion sections over to the Book Review and make it into the same kind of intellectual sinkhole.
Thus, "imaginated creations" aren't enough. (Although there's more than enough condescension in the way that phrase is used here.) If fiction writers aren't going to stick to the facts, damn it, then they ought at least stick to the manly art of storytelling in ways we journalists can commend! Once they've turned their attention to the "relevant" subjects, and told us a nicely constructed story, we can in turn make fiction irrelevant and twist their tales into our own conventional, prefab shapes.