Paul Kincaid has a thoughtful post at Big Other about the distinctions between the novel and the short story: “Over the duration of a novel, duration being time spent in composition or in reading or simply the passage of time within the fiction, there has to be time enough to seek explanation, to make sense…. Within the compass of a story, on the other hand, the unbidden, the whole, there need be no more than that moment that makes no sense, because it is adrift from history and from future, seen separated from what went before and what comes after which are in their turn what gives it context.”
I’ve been reading Steven Millhauser‘s book of new and collected stories, We Others, which comes out next month, and he made a similar point in a 2003 interview with Jim Shepard in Bomb: “But shortness encourages certain effects and not others. It encourages, for instance, the close-up view, the revelatory detail, the single significant moment. In the little world of the story, many kinds of desirable effect are inherently impossible—say, the gradual elaboration of a psychology, the demonstration of change over time…. As for novels: in their dark hearts, don’t they long to be exhaustive? Novels are hungry, monstrous. Their apparent delicacy is deceptive—they want to devour the world.”
Also at Big Other, which I really should’ve been keeping up with regularly a long time ago: A word-hoard from Annie Proulx‘s The Shipping News.
“1. Mow lawn. 2. Get rid of that fucking hose.”
Michael Dirda considers the literary heritage of his hometown of Lorain, Ohio, and invites readers to share their own hometown authors. (To my knowledge, my hometown of Lyons, Illinois, has produced only one author of note, Jack Kerouac biographer Gerald Nicosia.)
Regarding The Tragedy of Arthur and other novels in which the author is a character: “The game element of art, the puzzle of the construction, distances us from what really greets us every morning, as opposed to that we confront in the turning of the page. These fictional autobiographies flag a form of deception and collusion between reader and writer.”
Frank Wilson isn’t sold on the third rule for book reviewers in Robert Pinsky’s much-circulated Slate piece. The rule in question: “The review must tell what the reviewer thinks about what the book’s author says about that thing the book is about.” Wilson writes, “Certainly reviews that focus exclusively or even principally on Pinsky’s third rule are a waste.” I agree it’s a difficult thing to pull off, especially in a tight word count, and it risks opening the door to off-point political readings and other ramblings. But it does have the benefit of putting the reviewer’s opinion in context. Perhaps it’d be more helpful to revise the rule or add a corollary to it: “The review must tell what the reviewer thinks about how well the book’s author addressed the thing the book is about.” (Or just dump Pinsky’s rules and go with Updike’s.)
Ezra Pound: “Make it new.” John Barth: let it go.