Links: Revolutionary Roads

Andrew Alan Stewart Carl: “It’s fine, I think, to write about a white, middle-class male accountant in Charlotte, North Carolina. But the story shouldn’t just be about his difficult marriage. Or rather, it can be about his marriage but it shouldn’t be insularly so, without regard as to how the difficulties in this particular marriage say something about the bigger ideas/struggles/issues of our time. This, I believe, can be addressed with bold strokes or subtly in subtext, but it should be addressed. Otherwise, even if the story is expertly written, it’s not likely to be an examination of anything new, a necessary story.”

Roxane Gay, who prompted Carl’s post, has a thoughtful reply that gets at why deliberately engineering fiction to be “relevant” is problematic, and why writing to satisfy (or undercut) your perceived place in the socioeconomic matrix is too. Richard Price had a story to tell related to this in a 1996 Paris Review interview:

I had a student in one of my classes. He was writing all this stuff about these black guys in the South Bronx who were on angel dust . . . the most amoral thrill-killers. They were evil, evil. But it was all so over-the-top to the point of being silly. He didn’t know what he was talking about. I didn’t know this stuff either, but I knew enough to know that this wasn’t it.

I said to the kid, Why are you writing this? Are you from the Bronx?

He says, No. From New Jersey.

Are you a former angel-dust sniffer? Do you run with a gang?

He says, No. My father’s a fireman out in Toms River.

Oh, so he’s a black fireman in suburban New Jersey? Christ! Why don’t you write about that? I mean, nobody writes about black guys in the suburbs. I said, Why are you writing this other stuff?

He said to me, Well, I figure people are expecting me to write this stuff.

What if they do? First of all, they don’t. Second, even if they did, which is stupid, why should I read you? What do you know that I don’t know?…. [H]e went from this painful chicken scratch of five-page bullshit about angel-dust killers to writing stuff that smacked of authenticity and intimacy.

Adam Levin lists some of works of American fiction that have had the strongest influence on him, including a spot-on defense of Philip Roth‘s Operation Shylock.

Does pursuing a Ph.D. do a crime writer any good?

Mark Kurlansky on returning to his roots as a fiction writer to contribute to Haiti Noir.

A visit to the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library:

Benjamin Taylor talks with Dissent about his experience editing Saul Bellow‘s letters. The passage from Henderson the Rain King he cites as an example of Bellow’s greatness is one of my favorites as well—that book has the best ending of his major works. (via)

Confronting Henry James‘ late works.

Victoria Patterson isn’t hearing the argument that an author has to be all over social media to promote his or her work. “I don’t have an optimistic, sunny personality. Why should I pretend to be a social person?

Reynolds Price died yesterday at 77. I’ve read none of his many works (recommendations about where to start are welcome), but I do like this line from his 1991 Paris Review interview: “I think I’m a comic writer always. I hope I am—in the long run anyhow—because I think our existence is comic, finally.”

What’s that? Somebody’s bemoaning the lack of a great Washington novel again?

10 responses to “Links: Revolutionary Roads

  1. ‘Relevant’ may be dire, but ‘authentic’ is just as bad: it’s only ‘write what you know’ in white tie and top hat.

  2. “Otherwise, even if the story is expertly written, it’s not likely to be an examination of anything new, a necessary story.”

    I don’t think there should be (or is) a requirement that fiction be “necessary,” or examine anything. Is entertainment a dirty word?

  3. All recluses owe Victoria Patterson a huge debt of gratitude.

  4. This looks like the kind of reference work you need if you’re looking for that great (or even good) lost Washington novel:

  5. Hey Mark, these are really really awesome links. Thanks you!

    A quick heads up: It’s Alan Stewart Carl, not Andrew.

    Happy weekend!
    Seth

  6. Thanks, Seth! I’ve corrected the post.

  7. I stumbled onto Price’s Kate Vaiden without knowing anything about him or his other work, and I found it both rich and accessible. That led me to a couple of others, including Blue Calhoun. So Kate Vaiden may work as a starting point for you too.

    • It’s funny you mention “Kate Vaiden”—I picked it up in New York the day after I learned about Price’s death, and very much enjoyed the 20-30 pages I read before review duties came calling. Hope to get back to it soon.

  8. I realize this article is old, but hoping you’ll follow my advise if it isn’t too late. Read Reynolds Price’s memoir’s in order first; Clear Pictures, Ardent Spirits and A Whole new Life…then read his novels. To know his background in advance gives one the necessary insight needed to fully enjoy and relate to his characters…His sexuality runs deep and subtly throughout.
    Besides being one of the most brilliant writers, he is one of the nicest human beings I’ve ever known. Unfortunately his final memoir, Midstream, he didn’t finish before he died…So we’ll never know and always wonder.

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