Curtain Calls update: My review from Kirkus should arrive any day now. I hear it in my mind like a ticking clock, or is that a ticking bomb? I’m also looking for readers to provide reviews to Amazon and Goodreads. If you’d like a free ARC for your Kindle, e-reader, or print copy in return for a brief review, please contact me. There’s no obligation that the review be positive.
One of the nicest aspects of taking a workshop class at Hugo House has been the opportunity to read the work of some of the best writers from a few decades ago. Our instructor, Joan Leegant (a pretty great writer of her own), is partial to some of the big names in the short story world, writers like William Trevor, TC Boyle, Jill McCorkle and Bernard Malamud. Most of what I read these days is recent fiction, which I use as a guide to content and style that might make my writing more palatable to the gatekeepers, so it’s been a nice change to revisit (or in some cases, visit) stories that connect to the values from my past.
Make no mistake, those values have changed—rather drastically. It’s hard to reconcile a modern novel like Sheila Heti’s How Should a Person Be?, which I just finished—a book that received dozens of rave reviews, and in which the protagonist ultimately, in order to cure herself of her lust for her ex-boyfriend’s cock, sleeps all night with her nose in his ass (doesn’t really matter what the metaphor is there, does it?), with something like Malamud’s use of fantasy in the search for moral truth.
The concept of morality seems to have taken on a parochial meaning in fiction today. The emphasis now is on self-validation, whatever the lifestyle portrayed, and on shock value. But I’ll save that blog for another day.
Granted, I find some of the work of the “establishment” writers, the ones who regularly make it into Best American Short Stories, ponderous and infused with a Disney-like sentimentality, but those previous generation writers still have a lot to teach us, if we care to learn. While reading Trevor I had a little style epiphany—his use of multiple POV, and the seemingly inconsequential details each character noticed, became the literary equivalent of pointillism. Like a Seurat painting, those dots congeal into a panorama when the viewer steps back and looks at the whole thing. The effect is stunning. It’s not something often seen in today’s rather solipsistic fiction.
Malamud holds a special place among the greats for me. About twenty years ago, when I was an undergrad at Cal State Long Beach, I took an English class in literature and composition. My semester project, assigned to me by the instructor, was an analysis of Malamud’s 1959 “The Magic Barrel,” a story I grew to revere as the months went on. My paper turned into a thirty-page tome, which, ahem, was still being used as that professor’s model of a research paper fifteen years after I graduated. How great it was to read some of his work again, grounded as it is in Jewish moralism. Frankly, I found his themes refreshing. I guess if one waits long enough, everything seems new again.
Artistic styles change through time. Whatever one thinks of current trends in fiction, this must occur, as each generation seeks its own truth. Maybe that’s why some older fiction appeals to me, as it’s framed within the values I learned a long time ago. Still, I am enjoying these stories. I will read more of them.