An Almost Autistic Insistence

I haven’t kept up with Michael Cunningham since The Hours—which I didn’t like as much as A Home at the End of the World—but the reviews of his new novel about a New York art dealer, By Nightfall, seem positive enough that I’d like to get to it. In an interview with Artinfo (via), he discusses his own early efforts to make it in the art world, and how they led him to writing:

I started writing as something to do that wasn’t painting. I didn’t necessarily feel that I was hugely gifted as a writer, but I did find that I had a much different, and more urgent, level of interest in the process: the fundamental question of trying to produce something like life using only language, using only ink and paper. I’ve actually come to suspect that what we call talent is a real thing, but it is probably closely related to some other capacity to just focus and focus and focus and focus and focus, and just keep at it until you finally produce a decent painting or a paragraph worth reading. And I found that, for writing, I had this almost autistic insistence that I couldn’t quite muster for painting.

Cunningham expanded on that obsessiveness in a New York Times essay: “Many novelists, if they are pressed and if they are being honest, will admit that the finished book is a rather rough translation of the book they’d intended to write,” he writes. “It’s one of the heartbreaks of writing fiction.” (Mark Sarvas of the happily resuscitated The Elegant Variation discusses a few problems with the piece overall.)

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