It’s been three days without much sun, and I’m three days into recording life in the middle of a novel. Lack of sunlight discourages me so I slept in this morning and woke up feeling especially grouchy and slow. It’s taken hours to put my seat in my chair. But I said I was going to write about questioning the art of fiction. So here goes.
I’ve been reading fiction by the younger writers like Sheila Heti, Tao Lin, Karl Ove Knaussgaard, Marie Calloway, Ben Lerner, Tamara Faith Berger, and many others for an essay I’m writing for the Globe. And what they’re doing has stopped my breath. It’s something new and it’s very autobiographical. They’re dispensing with some of fiction’s most important tropes. I don’t just mean a trope like plot although they mostly dispense with that too. I mean tropes like using a narrative mask. Instead they’re inserting themselves as the subject into their fictional stories. Sure, writers like Henry Miller and Proust have done this before but they’ve done it with a tinge of romanticism. These new young wonderful writers are not romantics. I’m calling them the New Unromantic Romantics because they report on the deepest, shallowest, creepiest and most unworthy feelings and thoughts that can go on in the mind of an individual. And the result? Their work is fascinating and original.
The Norwegian writer Karl Ove Knaussgaard said he wants his writing to bring the reader “closer to a self.” That’s what happens in the books by these younger writers; they create a powerful and unique intimacy with the reader. I admit I am in awe. So how does the work by these writers affect day three in anxiety pancakes? When you’re prone to self doubt in the middle of the novel, one of the first questions to ask is–now, why aren’t I doing something other than I’m doing? So yeah, today I’m asking why I’m not writing a novel without a narrative mask and story arc. I mean, why aren’t I?
Now that’s something to brood on for a while, isn’t it?