Suspend Your Disbelief

Posts Tagged ‘discussion review’

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How Fiction Works Discussion Review: Free Indirect Style

I’ve been trying to read Muriel Barbery’s critically acclaimed novel The Elegance of the Hedgehog, and while I’m relishing many of the author’s ideas, they feel to me like just that–the author’s ideas, not ones that belong to the book’s characters; a wealthy pre-teen and middle-aged concierge spend at least the first section of Hedgehog (I’m on p. 114) hiding their gifted selves from everyone they know while sharing them, mostly in monologue/journaling style, with us. Their use of language is almost identical, as is their attitude toward (and analysis of) the world around them. So much of the book […]


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How Fiction Works Discussion Review: Fiction and Social Change

Fiction can change the world. Now that I’ve dropped that lead balloon on my foot, allow me to leave it there temporarily as penance for not only opening with such a clichéd adage, but also a self-aggrandizing one. Worse yet, I believe it. Deeply. Despite how hackneyed a statement, fiction has the potential to change our world. Perhaps not always in the same way as clean drinking water or penicillin, but alter our lives it can. And powerfully so. James Wood touches on this phenomenon in his essay-chapter “Sympathy and Complexity.” He opens with an anecdote about a Mexican police […]


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How Fiction Works Discussion Review: "Realism" in Fiction

The chapter/essay of How Fiction Works I found most intriguing was the last one: “Truth, Convention, and Realism”; the issues touched on within could easily be the subject of an entire book. What I find the most perplexing is coming to a definition of “realism” in the first place. Is realism truth? Mimesis? Traditional narration? Wood begins the section by citing the novelist Rick Moody, who says that contemporary literature has become dull and needs “a kick in the ass”; his disapproval seems to be aimed more at structure and style than content. Yes, sometimes a novel’s conflict-climax-resolution check mark […]


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How Fiction Works Discussion Review: Telling vs. Untelling Details

In his chapter on “Detail,” Wood takes on a standby of Fiction I: the telling detail. Details, we’re usually told, should be significant, not gratuitous; they should give us some particular insight into the character or the setting. If there are telling details, Wood suggests, there must be untelling details as well. But do “irrelevant” or “untelling” details really exist?


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How Fiction Works Discussion Review: Wood Echoing Wood

How Fiction Works is simultaneously a gloss on the history of what James Wood calls “modern realist narration” and an encapsulation of much of Wood’s criticism to date. That is to say, in charting realism’s development, Wood revisits many subjects from his two previous books of essays, The Broken Estate and The Irresponsible Self. Much of what I admire in Wood’s past criticism is on display again here. Yet the way in which Wood repurposes older material occasionally rankles. Consider, for example, the excellent opening of his introduction to Saul Bellow’s Collected Stories: Every writer is eventually called a “beautiful […]


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How Fiction Works Discussion Review: An Introduction

Over the next week, I will join fellow FWR contributors Greg Schutz, Celeste Ng, Natalie Bakopoulos, and Jeremiah Chamberlin in discussing critic James Wood’s latest collection of essays, How Fiction Works. Feel free to join the conversation by commenting on our blog posts. In How Fiction Works, Wood approaches the elusive how behind craft by “ask[ing] a critic’s questions and offer[ing] a writer’s answers.” He explores such mysteries as the distinction between narrative and authorial language in order, in his own words, “to reconnect that technique to the world, as Ruskin wanted to connect Tintoretto’s work to how we look […]


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conversational reviews

At FWR, we plan to experiment with different ways to conduct discussion, or conversational, reviews about books. For Lush Life, we tried the immediate (and often overlapping) method of a real-time IM conversation; for our December selection, How Fiction Works, we’re going to try a series of posts by various participants over the course of a week or two. Eventually I’d be interested in offering podcast discussions (like Slate‘s) or creating a message board format that treats all of the site’s readers as equal participants (as Book Balloon does). In the meantime, please enjoy this sampling of ensemble reviews from […]



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