Fiction, as an art form, requires an inordinate amount of time to perfect. Most novelists spend years crafting their books, and any reader with her salt can quite easily see why. No one, in other words, means to rush a novelist’s intricate work, yet the understandable gap between novels can seem interminable for us fans. The trick, I think, is to read as widely as possible, so that every month (or at least every year) promises new books from authors you like, thereby making the wait more tolerable for the ones by the writers you love. Continue reading…
Whether we like it or not, this is the age of Trump. Maybe Trump’s actual presidency will last for four years (or maybe less, fingers crossed), or even eight, but the repercussions of his policies, his behavior, and the world’s reaction to him will be felt for much longer. Entire volumes could be written about the impact of Trump’s tweets alone. In less than two years of the Trump era, writers have engaged with our political landscape with renewed passion and indignation. Poets and short story writers have traced Trump’s disheartening influence, and even novelists—not always known to be the quickest to respond to topical politics, considering how long it takes to craft a novel—have already tackled, in various ways, our Trumpian climate.
Sometimes directly and sometimes less overtly, it’s impossible to deny the effect Trump’s election has had on literary art. Many have called this the “post-truth” era, but these 21 books show that great literature doesn’t lie like Trump lies—self-aggrandizing, fault-avoiding, and shortcut-chasing. Instead, literature invents in order to tell us hard-won and difficult truths. Deception conceals; literature reveals. Continue reading…
It seems like an obvious question to answer: what, exactly, is a novel? Turns out the answer’s one of the slippery concepts that as soon as you try to define, you begin to qualify and edit and revise, and then qualify some more, until little by little, the number of amendments to the original statement are so great and their permissibility so near total that, hell, the damn definition itself could be considered a novel. How many pages or words differentiate a novel from a novella? What form must it take? Must it always have plot? Characters? And what of typography? Any rules on that front? Would a hand-written novel in a dollar-store journal of a friend of yours feel like a novel the same way a published novel by that same friend would? And I mean the word feel in a literal sense. How that journal simply didn’t have those features—of texture, mechanics, and design—that typically evoke the referent novel in a person’s mind but which actually have more to do with fiction’s commodification than with its aesthetics. A novel, then, is mostly a commercial distinction, as in, e.g., How do we sell this book? The answer to this, as everyone knows, is nevernuance. It’s short and sweet. It’s simplicity and catchiness, something a potential consumer can see, comprehend, and remember after a brief exposure. So something like “autofictional memoir blended with criticism and journalism”? Nobody’s gonna get that, let alone remember it. As these generic terms get stamped on books for better marketability, the divisions between the various categories get more and more distinct and less forgiving to cross, and like all fences they keep out just as much as they keep in, and soon the gaps have grown so vast that certain writers who seem able to nimbly and indiscriminately hop over them are viewed with as much perplexity as esteem. And so well if it’s not the page it’s printed on or its length, and if it’s not inherently plot-driven or character-filled, and if it’s the seeming pervasiveness of an understood definition is merely the result of repeated and successful branding on the part of publishers, then what the hell is it? A novel is a useful umbrella for the many torrents of fictional art. But when it rains it pours, and under harsh duress, the umbrella breaks like any of us. Read these.
To celebrate National Short Story month, here are fourteen innovative and unique story collections, the kinds that contain wonderful tales but also add up to a singular, cumulative experience. Instead of disparate narratives one after the other, these are stories as riffs, as meditations, as commentary, as thematic development, and collections as standalone works of art, which show that stories needn’t be isolated figures, like trees, but can become, in the right hands, forests and jungles—or better yet they can be turned into houses, and it doesn’t matter that you can’t recognize the individual trees.
The Door by Magda Szabó | Northwest Review of Books
Emerence is a housekeeper for a writer named Magda, and the two women couldn’t be any more different. That sentence, in all its ordinariness, could legitimately stand as a plot description for Magda Szabó’s subtle and fascinating novel The Door. The events that take place are dramatic at times, to be sure, but they function more as isolated incidents rather than a narrative whole. Emerence is the through-line; she is the connective tissue that brings together the disparate parts to make a body. She is—like Gatsby, Ahab, or Daisy Miller—what I call a study character, an important figure that a narrator is unable to fully understand but who is also unalterably enmeshed in their psyche. Emerence, in all her extremely fine details, her many contra-dictions, her utter singularity as a character, is one of the most compelling people I’ve met in recent fiction. She is a classic; she is a magical, mysterious presence that makes The Door a masterpiece.
Unquote: The Benefits of Excising Quotation Marks | The Millions
Quotation marks can be insidious little creatures. They have immense, unacknowledged power. They can turn a good idea into a “good idea.” With the simple addition of the those lines, something that would have been accepted for only its definition becomes suspect, questionable, even a parody of itself. Quotation marks render a statement euphemistic, a cover for the real thing, as in, He’s with his “friend” Andrew. Or they can be dysphemistic, as in, He’s with his “boyfriend” Andrew. Words surrounded by light, floating lines seem to lift right off the page, hovering over it, detached from any fixed meaning.
How to Be Both by Ali Smith | The Rumpus
How To Be Both is, after The Accidental, The First Person and Other Stories, There but for the, and Artful, Smith’s fifth masterpiece in a row. Her inimitable writing sneaks into you with its deceptive readability, but it’s her radiating intelligence that stays with you. Her mind works wonders on a theme, able to find lovely and profound connections in seemingly anything. She’s a passionately caring writer whose emotional generosity spills out into her pages, trickling out of her books like an overflowing champagne flute.
Wordsmith: The Beguiling Gifts of Ali Smith | The Millions
Ali Smith, appropriately enough, is one of the few writers (along with Nabokov, Stoppard, Woolf, Wallace, and Hitchens) who qualify as a “wordsmith.” Her prose, however, isn’t as rich or ornate as some of the other wordsmiths, but no one else can mine ordinary words for such rich, emotional meaning.