What Is the New Counterculture? Part 1


Editor’s Note: Since March, PJ Lifestyle has been highlighting some of the most innovative fiction writers at the recently-launched new media publishing platform Liberty Island, featuring interviews and story excerpts. Click here to see our collection of 24 so far. We’re going to continue periodically introducing new contributors but today we start a new series featuring many of these writers talking about their upcoming books and dialoguing about this question: 

“Liberty Island has identified itself as the home of the new counterculture. In what ways does your book exemplify this?”

To learn more check out this interview Sarah Hoyt conducted with CEO Adam Bellow: “It also has a unique mission: to serve as the platform and gathering-place for the new right-of-center counterculture.” Also see COO David S. Bernstein’s recent essay here in which he defines Liberty Island as, “an imaginative playground where brilliant and creative people can test their ideas without being harassed or threatened by the new breed of ‘community activists’ who police thought and speech in the media.” Bellow’s new cover story at National Review, is also out today: “Let Your Right Brain Run Free.” Finally and importantly, support Liberty Island’s crowd-funding efforts here where you can pre-order the upcoming novels and learn about other incentives.

Before completing The Violet Crow, I was having dinner with a woman who teaches English lit at a branch of University of Washington. When I told her my novel was a detective story, she dismissed it in four words: “Detective stories are normative.” I had never heard this choice bit of academic wisdom before, but, before we get to that, let me describe the premise of my normative tale.

The Violet Crow begins when the students of Gardenfield Friends School enter the Quaker Meetinghouse for their weekly half hour of silence. They find instead the lifeless body of a ten-year-old girl. Because there are no clues, and no grieving parents come forward to claim their daughter, the police are pressured into taking an unusual step: They hire a psychic detective.

The idea is to show the press and the politicians that the Gardenfield cops are seriously trying to find the murderer and restore order to this normally safe and self-satisfied community. However, Bruno X, aka Joey Kaplan, is a bit more than anyone bargained for. He has genuine psychic talent, but it’s inconsistent. People always assume that psychics are fakes. And when confronted with suspicions, Bruno counters with Mad-Magazine-Yiddish invectives and recycled Borsht Belt routines.

The Violet Crow offers readers a tight plot, lots of suspects, weird science, and some surprising historical connections. There are also elements of magical realism as Bruno’s psychic ability moves up and down a scale that ranges from coincidence to intuition, luck, and the occasional bit of sorcery. Finally, if you dig deep into genre categories, The Violet Crow is technically a “caper,” because it’s a crime story that’s also humorous.

Now in what sense is any of this normative? Only if you buy into the assumption that America’s traditional values are corrupt, bourgeois artifacts of a paternalistic culture. In this upside-down academic worldview—which is the mainstream view when it comes to things literary—upholding the law is a bad thing. Instead, they affect a pose of ironic detachment, because “everyone” knows justice is a game.

My response is, as Bruno would say, “Don’t be a shmuck.” Gardenfield is a nice town, with good schools and decent people. Of course you’d fight to preserve it. Someone’s murdering kids? You track them down and put them away.

In this sense, it’s ridiculously easy to write new counterculture fiction: You just write the best book you can and avoid the left wing clichés and stereotypes. You go easy on the irony, alienation and introspection. And you avoid ambiguity—especially at the end.

Of course it can also be fun and entertaining to give left wing standard-bearers—professors and journalists and such—the old Dante’s Inferno treatment. That’s where you make the punishments exquisitely reflect their character flaws. This is something you can look forward to in The Violet Crow.


Also see Michael’s PJ Lifestyle writings: 

6 Things We Love and Hate about The New California Wine

The Singularity is Boring

image via shutterstock /  redpip1984