Friday, July 09, 2004

Eggers, take note

Because Jim Lewis, right or wrong, has got your number. On the contemporary novel:
"Make it new," [Ezra] Pound insisted. How much pale ink continues to be spilled in the service of that demand. I, for one, would like to see an unofficial ban on the following things: stories in which the author shows up as one of the characters, stories built around lists, or with the marginalia of writing moved to the center (dedications, errata, footnotes, etc.). I would like to see mere cleverness and innovation removed from the practice, along with all cheap ironies, second-guessing, meretricious tricks with time (stories written in the present tense, narrative running backwards, games with simultaneity, and so on), the substitution of swaths of facts and factoids for inspiration and invention … and so on.

Above all, I would insist that novelists who think they're smarter than their characters, and more sophisticated than the idea of the novel itself, and who cannot resist the temptation to demonstrate as much, ought instead to find deeper characters and better stories to write. I want a book to break my heart; everything else is television.

This is not to say that I don't love my Calvino and marvel at a Joyce. But what began as exuberant invention has become trite gimmick, divorced from the muse and instead married to, I don't know, vanity maybe. Or perhaps, as Martin Amis said when he was signing books here in town, people have grown tired of Ulysses. "We want a story," he said. "Nobody these days wants to curl up in bed with a 600-page crossword clue."


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