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Out of the Woods

rcf_fall_2008_coverA cottage industry has arisen to debate, dissect, and dump on James Wood, especially since the appearance of his book How Fiction Works.  Personally, I like Wood’s book.  I don’t always agree with him, but he never fails to make me look closer at the text of fiction and its organization.   But that’s not where I’m headed.

I just finished the Fall 2008 issue of The Review of Contemporary Fiction, published by Dalkey Press, which is devoted to New Writing on Writing.  It contains eleven essays, every one of which contributed something to my reading experience or my Books To Be Read list.  Most of the essays are by fiction writers, in keeping with Dalkey Archive’s writer-centric philosophy.

William Gass’ essay on diagramming sentences took me back to my youth when – I believe – I was the only kid in class who enjoyed diagramming sentences.  Paul West, Nicholas Delbanco, and others write about the act of writing and the writer’s life.  Gail Scott’s The Sutured Subject deals with what is often called “experimental” writing: “Each of my novels has attempted a different answer to this question of tension between texture and narrative.”    In the midst of Dumitru Tsepeneag’s essay on Romanian fiction is a terrific reflection on Surrealism – especially automatism.

In one of my favorite essays, Warren Motte, who teaches at the University of Colorado, writes about Jean Rolin’s 2007 novel L’Explosion de la durite (The Explosion of the Radiator Hose).  But in doing so he ranges across topics of intense interest to any adventurous reader, including the current debate over what constitutes a “novel”:

[The novel] is a much-contested word, to be sure; but it is also extremely resilient, because the novel, these days (at least the novel of the “serious” stripe), is almost always a hybrid form.

Much of Motte’s discussion (particularly on narrative instability) applies directly to the works of W.G. Sebald, and, in fact, it turns out that Sebald’s The Rings of Saturn served as “one of the principal intertextual touchstones” for Rolin’s novel L’Explosion de la durite.  “Digression is a deeply purposeful narrative technique.”

Each of these essays bears re-reading and I’m currently doing just that with Olivier Rolin’s The Subtle Genius of the Novel.  More on that later.


4 Comments Post a comment
  1. Thank you for the heads-up on this edition of The Review of Contemporary Fiction. I took up both parts of your advice, to acquire this excellent edition and to subscribe. The Olivier Rolin essay is a highlight but I have yet to complete this edition, which I am enjoying sparingly.

    March 28, 2009
  2. anncarolyn #

    regarding the book “how fiction works” :

    do you mean “JAMES WOODS” the movie actor,
    or JAMES WOOD, the writer ???
    you wrote “James WOODSSSSS”,


    April 25, 2009
    • Thanks for noticing the difference between Wood and Woods! I’ve corrected the post to get the name of critic James Wood right this time.

      April 25, 2009

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