Art Leading the Way

 

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Longtime writers, with some modicum of success, usually write such books as J. M. Coetzee’s here. Writers often dredge the pages looking for writerly insights, but as is the case here, other intellectual disciplines can also benefit from such writing. The bottom line seems to be that the best of creative writing asks the questions pertaining to the human experience and leaves the answering to science.

 

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The First Person Peripheral Narrator

 

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There are many ways to tell a story, and David Guterson, in his novel, The Other, chose a method Scott Fitzgerald made famous, in which a secondary character in the story tells the tale. It’s a clever ploy, but can be difficult to pull off: the reader gets this person’s slant on the book’s events, but this person must not overwhelm the principal character(s).

To his credit, Guterson pulls it off pretty darned well.

 

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Art and Time in Literature

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Worried about structuring your next novel, writer? You readers out there don’t get why the writer hopscotched back and forth in time? This old post on a very fine novel, A Girl In Hyacinth Blue, may help both reader and writer. A hint: Monitor your thoughts for an hour or so. See how they constantly go from  past to future to present in no particular order?

 

 

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The Vagaries of sex

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If you’re old enough, you’ll remember the social transformations that occurred in the ‘Sixties. They may not have registered then as serious changes in our social fabric, but you’re no doubt able to look back now and shake your head, amazed at how things have changed.

Take sex, for instance.

That’s the driving force behind Ian McEwan’s novella, On Chesil Beach, which I posted on here and here. His characters reprise their youth, looking back on their sexual innocence as part of the ritual of growing up: their conflicted feelings of lust and awkwardness toward sex. But McEwan’s point doesn’t stop there; in his character’s hands McEwan shows us that the manner in which we handled those conflicted feelings affected their lives, pointed them in directions that now seem irreversible.

 

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Growing Slowly Toward Literary Perfection

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If you’re a writer (and you avid readers will nod at this, too), you’ve surely heard from agents or editors that you should begin a novel with six guns blazing and go higher from there. Or you have thirty pages to capture the reader’s complete attention.

Fortunately some books grow slowly, setting the table piece by piece. But to do this isn’t necessarily a condition of plot; instead, it’s more a case of how gifted the writer is.

Mischa Berlinski showed in Fieldwork that he’s just this sort of writer.

 

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The Folly and Fog of War

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I’ve often heard that the ones who see the wort of war don’t talk about it; it’s the “hang-backs” who see the glory, the romance to such nasty business. Still, time can heal somewhat, and so can a decades later memoir of conflicts such as the horrendous ones on the Eastern Front of WWII. 

Such a book is William Lubbeck’s At Leningrad’s Gates, a German infantryman’s recollections of the German siege of Leningrad. The siege was eventually unsuccessful, despite Hitler’s desire to raze Leningrad and to turn the city’s site into a lake. Lubbeck waited until 2006 to have his book published and gave as much of an account of both sides’ experience as I’m sure he could manage. 

Military types are almost never long on viewpoint in such cases; the duties and trials of combatants all but forbids it. But Lubbeck gives as broad an experience as he can manage, and it’s a much better read than that of many historians. I urge you to read it; in Lubbeck’s hands this conflict tells much about the folly – as well as the fog – of war.

 

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