A few days ago I read a blog in which someone referred to a talk Jayne Ann Krentz gave. In this talk, she mentioned that, in her opinion, the difference between the literary genre and other genre fiction, was one word: optimism. For whatever reason I've been thinking about this since I read that message (Funny, since I was present when Ms. Krentz gave that talk and only now started thinking about it) and I find I agree with her. Optimism is the difference between genre fiction and literary fiction (which is just another genre, but I won't get into that here--much).
It's a little too simplistic to say that all genre fiction is optimistic, but for the most part it is. Even set in an apocalyptic world, the struggle of a man (or mankind) to maintain dignity or the right thing is optimistic. That's why Mad Max works. A loner anti-hero who has lost everything still does the right thing and fights for the right causes. After he does the right thing, the world isn't "cured", but he goes on to do more "right things". Optimistic. In Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None, a book with NO heroes, justice does win in the end even if it's in a weird, unjust, twisted way. The book remains troubling because of its ending, which is what makes it a classic, but there is a weird sense of optimism in it. Justice does prevail (and if you've read the book**SPOILER** you understand the pun I'm making).
I think optimism is the right word. Optimism doesn't mean life becomes easy. It doesn't mean that the characters will live out the rest of their lives in pretty meadows filled with unicorns and rainbows, snacking on candy flavored flowers and never gaining a pound. Optimism means that no matter the circumstances, the characters will strive to seek goodness, justice, strength, and love. If death comes, and it will, hope will still exist. Optimism, whether it's the superficial belief that you will win the lottery or the deeply ingrained urge simply to wake up the next morning and slog through the day, is the strength of the human race.
Maybe life is futile. If that's the case, I don't want to read about it or watch it in a film or even know it. I prefer my optimistic delusions. Life is more fun that way.
Books I'm reading now:
Breathless by Dean Koontz
Blood Island by H. Terrell Griffin