Monday, January 22

The Art of Fiction Quiz: Answers, and Why?

Answers to the quiz:

a) The Lay of the Land, Richard Ford

b) The Sweet Hereafter, Russell Banks

c) Sky Breaker, Kenneth Oppel

d) Love Medicine, Louise Erdrich

e) Riddley Walker, Russell Hoban *

f) The Mouse and His Child, Russell Hoban *

g) The Ambassadors, Henry James

h) The Road, Cormac McCarthy

* Russell Hoban's birthday is February 4

Okay, it's not fair to put out a set of things and say, Here's a quiz! It presumes too much. We all like a number of things, and you may be reading Being and Nothingness while I prefer Pride and Prejudice. A quiz is just a gimmick, but the intent is just to point to some lovely openings to novels and to say, Look at these! These are a few books I love, and look at how they open! Read these sentences! You could write a whole essay just comparing a few of these openings.

E. M. Forster's Aspects of Fiction and David Lodge's The Art of Fiction are useful small guides that give a reader a number of ways to think about a book one has enjoyed. First you read it, of course, and if it's any good you get swept away into its world until your daily world practically vanishes and you are living the life of an upper middle class woman in London or a common boy on the banks of the Mississippi River. Later, if it's any good, the novel haunts you. And then you want to consider it, consider how a structure built out of words and sentences can create a world. If you do nothing more than reread, you see it differently the second time. It's like watching a movie decent enough to see twice. The first time you're not oriented: you're just being introduced to characters, settings, situations; and the themes and the plot, the hints and all the lovely nuances are flying by, and you're barely aware. You enjoy the telling, the movie, the novel, and you're moved or amused or challenged, but that's it. You close the book and move on. But -- if you go back and see the movie again or reread the book, since you plunge in already aware of what's going on you notice much more -- subtleties, connections, delicious or creepy foreshadowings, -- and your enjoyment deepens, your satisfaction swells.

I see that I've muddled two things here, sentences and openings; each is worth looking at by itself.

No comments: