austin allen hits it on the head…
The literary essay I’ve enjoyed most this year has been “The Stockholm Syndrome Theory of Long Novels,” published by The Millions back in May. In it, Mark O’Connell argues that the Gravity’s Rainbows and Infinite Jests of the world take their readers hostage, doling out punishments and rewards so unpredictably—and at such grueling length—that we exaggerate their virtues in order to stay sane. Reading these books, in other words, we experience:
“…a kind of literary variant of the Stockholm syndrome phenomenon, whereby hostages experience a perverse devotion to their captors, interpreting any abstention from violence and cruelty, however brief or arbitrary, as acts of kindness and even love.”
It’s an ingenious explanation of why readers and critics alike tend to rate “epic” novels so highly, despite all the mistreatment we suffer at their hands. (A simpler but related explanation might be the Marathon Theory: once the damn things are over, we remember all of the exhilaration and none of the pain.) I was surprised, though, that O’Connell never mentioned an obvious common feature of these books, one that might deepen our skepticism a little further. As with real-life kidnappings, the perpetrators of this literary abuse are almost always men.
i whole heartedly concur. maybe i’ve always been put off by the machoness that’s inherently built into the structure and creation of these books, or maybe i’m just looking for justification for my dislike of most books in this genre. hmm… read the rest here.