Skipping Christmas? Reactions were divided. Grisham fans scooped it up and devoured it with a semi-surprised look on their faces that seemed to say "Well, there's no lawyery intrigue here, but this actually isn't half bad." Then, of course, there were the skeptics who, simply upon hearing the title/author combo, guffawed noisely and retreated to the New York Review of Books to learn what Hilary Mantel thinks about VS Naipaul. (Sweeping generalizations are fun, aren't they?)
Despite the risk and the resulting blood-pressure-hike for their publishers, writers who publish outside the basic genre or type they're known for is a relatively frequent phenomenon. Most recently typified by Justin Cronin, an erstwhile literary writer who just published the much-acclaimed apocalyptic thriller The Passage, these cross-genre efforts, more often than not, seem to meet with a fair degree of success.
Pillars of the Earth. Follett, known since the mid-70s for his international spy thrillers like Eye of the Needle and Lie Down With Lions, says in the preface to Pillars: "In the book business, when you have had success, the smart thing to do is write the same sort of thing once a year for the rest of your life." Certainly, there are many novelists, both good and crappy, following that formula. But Follett had always been fascinated with architecture and how these cathedrals not just were built, but were built so that they've stood for more than 800 years. So he did his research and published the 1,000-page epic. And the result was what Follett considers his "best book" and what readers have definitely made his most popular. Talk about a risk that paid off!
Inherent Vice. Reviews are generally positive, and the novel's been acclaimed as Pynchon's most accessible work. Philip Roth (The Plot Against America) and Michael Chabon (The Yiddish Policemen's Union) both published wonderful alternate history novels, way outside the zone of their typical literary fare. And then there's the case of John Banville. The Booker Prize-winning (for The Sea), undisputed literary novelist also writes crime fiction under they pseudonym Benjamin Black — almost as if Banville hopes to stay far clear of the cross-genre discussion by creating an entirely separate identity lest his genre fiction goes awry.
And let's be clear, sometimes it really does go awry. Again, our example is John Grisham, whose Playing for Pizza, a sad, silly swing-and-a-miss sports novel, has been roundly booed by his fans and unfans unlike. As a literary snob, I sort of wish there were more examples like this to make fun of. But, as I said, I must begrudgingly admit these novels by writers who defy their own conventions, seem generally to be successful.
So, what's your take? Do you agree that these cross-genre novels seem to generally work? And which novels/novelists am I missing?