"BAD PAPER: The Bursting of the Fiction Bubble"

read it here.

September 15, 2009

A Review of “How Fiction Works” and Just About Everything Else

I realize I’ve been remiss – here James Wood’s How Fiction Works has been out in paperback for weeks now and I haven’t posted anything to mark the occasion!  And it reminds me of my remissness on another score:  that here amid all the piss-taking I’ve never really offered a positive example of what genuine, serious literary criticism “at the present time” should be. 

Fortunately I find that I’m able to kill both those carrion at one throw and get back to the other much more important and interesting things that have been occupying me lately.  I’m reposting, in full, the splendid September 14 offering at Fafblog.  I just found out about this blog (thanks, comrade Augustine), don’t know anything about the blogger, and doubt that the post was written as any kind of direct response to Wood, but I immediately recognized how well it works as a review of How Fiction Works, and in fact of Joseph O’Neill’s Nitherland or Netherparts or whatever it was and Ian McEwan’s Saturday and Claire Messud’s The Emperor’s Children and for that matter just about any work of contemporary “literary fiction” as well as pretty much all the “criticism” and reviews you’ll read in venues like New Yorker, The New Republic, Entertainment Weekly, Etcetera, Ad Nauseam

We need less like that, and more like this: 


"Once upon a time there was a fafnir and a giblets, and their names were Fafnir and Giblets," says me. 

"Giblets can't relate to these characters," says Giblets. "Who do they come from and where are they going and what are their hopes and their dreams and their dark and buried pasts? Giblets demands backstory!" 

"And they were pirates and spacemen and industrial chemical mixers who sailed the sea and tilled the land to get the girl and win the big game and ride the road of truth and self-discovery and of course the American Dream," says me. 

"Giblets does not believe in this story," says Giblets. "Where is the dirt and the dust and the gritty grainy gunk of the everyday? Giblets demands verisimilitude!" 

"And they dragged their straw-thatched huts and their earthenware mules and remembered the sweet-smelling spices and the warm baked bread of Grandma Stolchi's industrial meat-packing plant," says me. 

"Giblets is uninspired," says Giblets. "Where is the greatness and the grandeur and the daring doing of deedly deeds? Giblets demands a sense of the epic!" 

"And the mountains crunched and the thunder groaned and the wind and the war and the singing of songs and the angry angry sea," says me. 

"Giblets is detached," says Giblets. "Where is the warmth of the heart of the fiery fires of the human experience?  Giblets demands more feeling!" 

"And though their love was deep and fierce and right and true it was doomed from the start," says me, "for she was only a lowly scullery maid, and he had been trampled to death by elephants." 

"Giblets is confused," says Giblets. "Where is this going and what does it mean and how does it contribute to the advancement of the art of American letters?  Giblets demands a theory of storytime!" 

"And they all lived happily ever after," says me, "except for the ones who were squashed or exploded or eaten by bees." 

"Tell me another one," says Giblets.

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