The Politics of Fiction

Two of the premier political commentators in the United States -- who happen to be married to each other for the last 40 years -- have picked up on a thread in my novel, The Hundred-Foot Journey, to make a serious political point as relevant to America as it is to Europe. Check out "French Lessons For The United States", the latest column by Steve and Cokie Roberts.

As usual, the D.C. commentators used their down-to-earth common sense to nail our growing fiscal crisis on the head. Their deadly accurate call: "Unchecked entitlements will devour America's future." I couldn't agree more with their column. If our politicians don't deal with the reality of our deteriorating national finances, it's a matter of time before the markets will force the issue on them, a la Greece.

But all this got me thinking. I am a recovering journalist -- I was Forbes magazine's longest serving foreign-correspondent and a 25-year veteran when, late last fall, I took the severance package on offer and headed out the door at 60 Fifth Avenue. Journalism in America seemed to be in a death-spiral, and I had a growing sense that my future was as a novelist -- and decided to give it everything I got. If I failed, I could still die knowing I had given fiction writing my best shot. So far, not a single regret.

What most people don't know, however, is that there was an underlying reason why I was eager to leave journalism: the economic pressures of the business had become such it was impossible to practice the kind of journalism I wanted to practice. While the rising new media, like the Huffington Post, is providing valuable marketplace platforms for idea exchanges, there is still a black hole in our society.

Journalists today are forced to pontificate from their armchairs, barking out at a furious pace the short, sharp commentaries that are the staples of the Internet, without actually ever going out into the world to report, to listen, to sift through the conflicting signals of our complex society. There is, alas, no time or money anymore for learning and thinking and traveling -- the basic building blocks of lasting, meaningful, and productive journalism.

Seeking fulfillment, I turned to fiction -- its limitless canvas provides the room and time to say what I want to say. Which is precisely what the Steve and Cokie Roberts column seemed to pick up on. For all the feel-good travel and foodie fun that drives the plot in The Hundred-Foot Journey, I deliberately (and subversively) wove in some serious thought-threads throughout the book.

I suspect I am not the only recovering journalist moving headlong into fiction. In fact, I suspect we are going to see a flowering of fiction, as more and more writers fill the gaping void left by modern journalism, addressing the needs of our society through novels, their fictional characters becoming the "true" voices of our times, in creative ways no longer permissible in journalism

Am I deluded? Do any of you see any new fiction writers who are ostensibly writing page-turning "entertainment," but in actual fact addressing the serious issues of our times? If you do, please post your thoughts and let me know who these writers are -- I want to read their work and get to know them.