We could certainly use some alternatives to social reality right now, and what better place to find them than in books? But is Benjamin Markovits’ You Don’t Have to Live Like This the great social-realist-quasi-socialist-alternative-community novel of our times? Did I miss it? Only a few pages in, however, I realized that Markovits’ novel is no Erewhon . It is sadly a product of our times, in which books can disguise themselves as good simply by not being totally unreadable. Works like Dubliners or The Stranger taught us that ordinary prose can be artful, that mundane life stories can be made interesting, and that plots are sometimes secondary, or even unnecessary. The tenets of today’s default aesthetic come from such a misguided attachment to these lessons in style, and therefore every life needs to be a mundane one, prose must be plain, and plot is only an artificial construction that underlines its own artifice. These are commonplace mistakes, and as a result, I feel as if I have read some version of Markovitz’s book a thousand times. You have, too. But there’s more! Plots that pingpong as errantly as a narrator’s interests; down-and-outness that is more self-indulgent and pathetic […]

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