Is War’s Absence From Art a Class Thing?
Beverly Gologorsky is a novelist who grew up in the South Bronx during Vietnam, and so grew up witnessing many of her neighbors, friends, love interests, and family members go off to and come back from war. War was a part of life. Her first novel was about Vietnam war vets returning home, and her second novel is “permeated with a shadowy sense of what the Iraq and Afghan wars have done to us.”
In an essay for Guernica, Golgorsky writes about how she suspects the class divide is what keeps war feeling abstract and unknown to many Americans — and many fiction writers:
I’m a voracious reader of American fiction and I’ve noticed something odd in recent years. This country has been eternally “at war” and you just wouldn’t know that—a small amount of veteran’s fiction aside—from the novels that are generally published. For at least a decade, Americans have been living in the shadow of war and yet, except in pop fiction of the Tom Clancy variety (where, in the end, we always win), there’s remarkably little evidence of it.
Why doesn’t war appear more often in American novels? Novelist Dorothy Allison once wrote, “Literature is the lie that tells the truth.” Yet in a society where war is ever-present, that truth manages to go missing in much of fiction. These days, the novels I come across have many reference points, cultural or political, to mark their stories, but war is generally not among them.
My suspicion: it has something to do with class. If war is all around us and yet, for so many non-working-class Americans, increasingly not part of our everyday lives, if war is the thing that other people do elsewhere in our name and we reflect our world in our fiction, then that thing is somehow not us.
I think there is some truth to this, at least in my experience. I come from a military family and was an Army brat growing up, but these days I don’t know anyone personally who is serving in the military, or who has ever gone to war. An old fling from high school, a crush from church growing up, and then friends of friends, sure — but certainly no one I’ve been close to at the time or talked to about it.