Why Are Novels About Wealth Almost Absent From the Literary Canon?
Hernan Diaz in Conversation with Mitchell Kaplan on The Literary Life Podcast
On today’s episode of The Literary Life, Mitchell Kaplan is joined by Hernan Diaz to discuss his latest book, Trust, out now from Riverhead Books.
From the episode:
Hernan Diaz: It didn’t start out as a very political book. But of course, when you write about wealth, it is instantly political. But the first thing that drew me to this project was what I imagined, because obviously I’m not the wealthiest man in America, but what I imagined would be a dissonance between absolute rich that comes with a fortune like that and absolute seclusion and removal from life.
I can’t explain why it’s one of those things that becomes an itch. As I started thinking about that I also started reading novels in the American canon about money, and I was surprised to find that there were precious few of those. And that to me was all important in the process of writing the book, because I don’t need to stress, explain or expand on the place that wealth has in the American imagination, the place that money has in our collective idea of who we are as a people. And yet, despite its outsized presence in the American narrative, it’s almost absent from from the literary canon. This to me was fascinating.
This pointed to a certain taboo that I thought was worth of examination. I’m not saying that my book is here to fill that gap. You know, that would be extremely presumptuous. I’m just saying that the existence of the gap was, to me, very productive. A I started to read about wealth in historical documents, it became also very clear that it was a world where there was no room for women. They had been expelled from the narrative of capital in the United States and everywhere else… So that to me that also merited a revision because it is obviously not an accidental sort of omission. It’s a deliberate erasure. And that’s when the notion of voice to me became very important becauseit’s such a male voices that we hear in these narratives. And I thought that I would dramatize the issue of voice instead of simply comment on it. That’s why we have four voices in the book, and that’s why also the reader is invited to question what they think about their assumptions when encountering these voices and what kind of preassigned relationship to truth a voice has, you know?
Hernan Diaz is the author of two novels translated into more than twenty languages. His first novel, In the Distance, was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and the PEN/Faulkner Award. He has also written a book of essays, and his work has appeared in The Paris Review, Granta, Playboy, The Yale Review, McSweeney’s, and elsewhere. He has received a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Whiting Award, the William Saroyan International Prize for Writing, and a fellowship from the New York Public Library’s Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers.