The problem with the pandemic plot

“I had no specific ambition to write about the pandemic, but it was like a giant log that fell in my path,” said Ian McEwan, whose forthcoming novel, “Lessons,” follows a British man from the 1940s to his twilight years. in 2021, when he lives alone in London during the lockdown, looking back on his life. “It will show up in literary novels simply because there’s no way around it, if you’re writing a social realist novel.”

Anne Tyler’s “French Braid,” due out next month, follows a Baltimore family from the late 1950s to the upheaval of 2020, when a retired couple find unexpected joy after their adult son and grandson come to live with them to help deal with the pandemic. Nell Freudenberger’s upcoming novel, tentatively titled “The Limits,” examines the feelings of fear and insecurity that the virus has unleashed, and centers on a teenager struggling to combine distance learning with caring for a child, a biologist who is nervous is affected by climate change and a doctor who feels helpless when treating Covid patients.

In Isabel Allende’s “Violeta,” the narrator’s life is plagued by two pandemics, the Spanish flu and the coronavirus, a “strange symmetry” she ponders as she dies in isolation. “The experience of the entire planet frozen in place because of a virus is so extraordinary that I am sure it will be widely used in the literature,” Ms Allende said in an email. “It’s one of those events that mark an era.”

There’s no shortage of pandemic-themed content, from TV shows and documentaries to full-length nonfiction, poetry, and short stories. But novels often take longer to mature, and the first wave of pandemic literary fiction comes at a hazy moment, when the virus begins to become both mundane and insurmountable, and it’s unclear when the crisis will end, making it an impracticality. subject for fiction writers.

“You couldn’t have the great coronavirus novel yet because we don’t know how this story ends yet,” said writer and critic Daniel Mendelsohn.


February 20, 2022, 6:07 PM ET

When the first trickle of Covid-centric novels kicked in last year, some critics questioned whether the pandemic could yield valuable literature. “I’m a little scared of the onslaught of Covid-19 fiction coming our way in the coming years,” reviewer Sam Sacks wrote in The Wall Street Journal.

When English author Sarah Moss published her novel “The Fell” last November — about a woman who defies a mandatory quarantine order after being exposed to Covid — a handful of reviewers in Britain panned it to recreate the grueling experience of lockdown. .

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