Literary Fiction and Me: A Complicated Love Story


Last week’s dustup in the comments, begun by my good friend Porter Anderson, and continued by him on The Ether, may have left the impression that your humble correspondent is a dastardly assassin of literary fiction, ready to step out of the shadows with my sap and conk erudite authors on the head, stick them in the back of a sedan, and take them “for a ride.”

I plead not guilty, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, and thank you for this opportunity to set the record straight.
Let’s step back a moment: Just what is literary fiction anyway? I’m not going to attempt an all-encompassing definition. I’m not sure one exists. Sometimes it’s defined by what it is not: it is not genre fiction, for example. It is not “commercial.” Style and meaning are more prominent in literary fiction. It is “more complicated” and requires more “effort” to get into.
Whatever. My only point last week was to say that some (key word) highly lauded literary fiction seems to me to get in the way of story, not help it. I thought that was an innocent enough remark whose truth is all but self-evident. But then came the storm, and broad-brush asseverations that, even if unintentionally, splashed gooey residue upon your blameless observer.
I am thus compelled to offer evidence, which is why I now post the following. It is from a critically acclaimed literary novel. The author is highly regarded and many people love his work. My intent here is simply to point out that this is a type of writing that does not work for me.May I repeat that, please? For me. The broad brush is in the garage, unused.
It was a lone tree burning on the desert. A heraldic tree that the passing storm had left afire. The solitary pilgrim drawn up before it had traveled far to be here and he knelt in the hot sand and held his numbed hands out while all about in that circle attended companies of lesser auxiliaries routed forth into the inordinate day, small owls that crouched silently and stood from foot to foot and tarantulas and solpugas and vinegarroons and the vicious mygale spiders and beaded lizards with mouths black as a chowdog’s, deadly to man, and the little desert basilisks that jet blood from their eyes and the small sandvipers like seemly gods, silent and the same, in Jeda, in Babylon. A constellation of ignited eyes that edged the ring of light all bound in a precarious truce before this torch whose brightness had set back the stars in their sockets.
There is just too much going on in this paragraph, at least the parts of it I could understand. How did we get from the desert to a place called Jeda, wherever Jeda is? I had to look it up. It’s a village in Iran. I’m still confused. And while I’m all for specific detail in fiction, overkill dulls the effect, especially if the vocabulary is esoteric. I started to get really tired somewhere between solpugas and vinegarroons and desert basilisks. And what the heck is a chowdog? I Googled it and it’s not even a word. The closest is “chow dog,” which is a reference to a Chow-Chow, a fluffy dog with, indeed, a little black mouth. But is that what is meant here? If it is, is the juxtaposition of a stereotypical rich dowager’s pet with a poisonous lizard meaningful in this context? 
Look, it could be that I’m just obtuse. But the effect, to me, is to overwhelm with sound. Maybe it’s supposed to be like a poem. But if I want to read poetry of this type, I can re-read Howl. If I’m reading a novel I want a narrative that doesn’t constantly push me into prolix potholes. This is not an isolated opinion, by the way. See, for example, the famous article “A Reader’s Manifesto.”
Now, what I alsomentioned in my post is that when style and story meet, I love it. Here are a few quick notes I jotted down as I thought about that:
Talk about your literary fiction! Talk about your bane of

high school students’ existences! But I absolutely love Moby-Dick. The style is like the ocean itself—undulating currents and crashing waves of narrative. Calms and storms and the occasional port. It’s also a whale of a story! And I love Ishmael from the start. Here’s part of page one:

Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street and methodically knocking people’s hats off – then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can. This is my substitute for pistol and ball.
Compare that to the excerpt I posted above. Which one is trying to tell an actual story?
To Kill a Mockingbird
Need I say more? This book gets better with each reading. Donald Maass, Christopher Vogler and I went through Mockingbird chapter by chapter for Story Masters this year, the second time we’ve done so. I found even more richness in the text this time than last. And here’s the thing: Harper Lee never intrudes with style. For her, it’s all in the service of the story.
The Catcher in the Rye
A novel about an inner journey, usually one of the marks of lit-fic. The storytelling key, however, is that we care about Holden Caulfield. Salinger gives him attitude and confusion (the two things adolescent boys have most of) and a prep school experience that increases our sympathy for him. Without such fiction technique from the storyteller’s toolbox, the novel wouldn’t have worked.
Of Mice and Men
I remember reading this in Junior High and weeping at the end. Steinbeck had captured me with his story, and the guy won the Nobel Prize for literature. It can be done! 
Ask the Dust

John Fante’s novel of Los Angeles, published in 1939, holds up as a literary classic. The style pulsates with the heart and yearning of the young writer, Arturo Bandini, bleeding on the page:
Los Angeles, give me some of you! Los Angeles come to me the way I came to you, my feet over your streets, you pretty town I loved you so much, you sad flower in the sand, you pretty town. A day and another day and the day before, and the library with the big boys in the shelves, old Dreiser, old Mencken, all the boys down there, and I went to see them, Hya Dreiser, Hya Mencken, Hya hya: there’s a place for me, too, and it begins with B, in the B shelf. Arturo Bandini, make way for Arturo Bandini, his slot for his book, and I sat at the table and just looked at the place where my book would be, right there close to Arnold Bennett, not much that Arnold Bennett, but I’d be there to sort of bolster up the B’s, old Arturo Bandini, one of the boys, until some girl came along, some scent of perfume through the fiction room, some click of high heels to break up the monotony of my fame. Gala day, gala dream!
This is so much grander than mixed metaphors offering up sound and fury, signifying nothing.
Raymond Carver
With whom I once took a writing workshop. His stories are powerful in their subtlety, and from him I learned the great value of the “telling detail.” See “Will You Please Be Quiet, Please?” for starters.
Joyce Carol Oates
It was during the Carver workshop that I read many literary short stories that have stayed with me, including “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” by Joyce Carol Oates. (Maybe I like literary short stories with question marks in the titles).
Ernest Hemingway
I consider Hemingway’s stories to be among the finest in the English language. “Hills Like White Elephants” is an absolute masterpiece. Another Nobel Prize winner who told stories. Imagine that.
William Saroyan
A somewhat forgotten writer now, but in the 30s and 40s he

was considered a comet of literary genius. He didn’t stop with short stories and novels. He also wrote plays and memoirs. He won (and famously turned down) the Pulitzer Prize. I think Saroyan’s My Name is Aram is one of the best collections of short stories ever put together. The first and last stories frame the entire work in a way that inspires pure wonder in me. My beloved high school English teacher, Mrs. Marjorie Bruce, introduced me to Saroyan.

Ken Kesey
The first two pages of Sometimes a Great Notion have some of the best writing I’ve ever read. Kesey also told a great story, as Notionand One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nestattest.
Jack Kerouac
Even though Truman Capote famously dissed On the Road by saying it was “typing, not writing,” I do have a soft spot for Mr. Kerouac. His most famous novel has some beautiful riffs, as does The Dharma Bums. Kerouac called his literary style “Be-Bop Prose Rhapsody.” 
Joan Didion
For Play It As It Lays and that irresistible opening:
What makes Iago evil? some people ask. I never ask.
I could go on, but this post is already too long. Let me conclude that my love of fiction includes the literary side of the family, too—even though some of those family members are prone to wander off by themselves, leaving readers behind. But I will always be at the house if they want to come back and offer up . . . a story.
Ladies and gentlemen, I rest my case.
So what about you? What is literary fiction in your mind? Is it your cup of tea? Does it ever frustrate you? Who sends you soaring?

Talk it up, because this is the last Kill Zone post of the year! 

29 thoughts on “Literary Fiction and Me: A Complicated Love Story

  1. The “lone tree” example? Horrendous. Can’t judge the whole book on this one excerpt but I can guarantee I would have skimmed over this part, and maybe a lot more. Depends on how well this author drew his characters.

    A PRAYER FOR OWEN MEANY, THE KITE RUNNER, A SHADOW OF THE WIND; these are all literary works, I believe, but they are amazing reads because the characters in them are so well-depicted. You care about them. You’ll skim, if you feel the need, because you want to know what happens to them in the end.

    Some readers, I’m sure, like everything drawn for them, in order to picture the setting; the smells, the the sights, the manipulation of their senses. Not me. I can fill in that stuff myself. Give me action, throw in a few people I can relate to, and get out of my way.

    I still prefer my genre of choice. Murder mysteries, thrillers, suspense, whatever category you want to slot them in, but they still must have good characterization or I’ll put the book down and rarely will I give it a second chance.

  2. Great post, JSB. You make an excellent point. Overwriting is not literature, it’s just a writer drawing attention to the writing rather than the story. It’s done in all genres.

    To me literary fiction is usually much more character-based than genre or “commercial” fiction, which is much more plot-based. I don’t see this as a hard, fast rule. Rather, it’s a strong indicator. As evidence I bring “A Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Atwood and “Inferno” by Dan Brown. In the first, the author delved deep into the protagonist’s psyche and while she had many outward obstacles, none seemed paramount. The climax was rather muted. In “Inferno,” the main obstacle was clear early on and the protagonist drove for it at full tilt until the resounding climax. Langdon, however, had a muted character arc. By the end of the story I knew little more than I had learned in the first few pages (or in earlier books). I enjoyed both, but also felt they each lacked something.

  3. I don’t have a beef so much with “literary” fiction as I do with those arrogant, elitist “admirers” (they won’t call themselves, or let themselves be called “fans”; how proletarian, how declasse) of “genre” fiction, who have to spit to clear their mouths after saying the word.

    “Genre,” it should be said, merely means a class or kind, so “literary” fiction is itself another genre of fiction.

    The whole argument, in the end, is silly. Neither “literary” nor any other kind of writing is “better” or “worse” than any of the others. Each serves a particular purpose for a particular audience. Some serve to entertain more than others, to be an escape from the humdrum everyday–“escape”: there’s another “literary” swear word; p’tooie–while others wallow in it, decomposing the ooze and plumbing its depths, seeking the bottom.

    Fine. Whatever. Read what you enjoy. Just don’t tell me I’m wrong wrong wrong, a sinner destined for perdition, if I happen to like something else.

  4. The samples you gave are perfect. The Lone Tree used 152 words to describe a tree on fire in the desert. In the end we have a tree on fire in the desert.

    Moby Dick used 96 words to describe a man. In the end we see him as having emotional issues, anger, impatience, that leads to difficulty with people and explains why he is a sailor, thereby setting up the main character of the story.

    That’s the perfect illustration of the difference between what I like and don’t regarding Lit Fic. Give me pretty words, fine. But lead me into the story with all that fancy dance description, take me on a journey that goes somewhere at the end of the sentence. Don’t leave me standing in the desert wondering what I’m supposed to be looking at.

    Frank Delaney for me is one of the best of this era when it comes to marrying awesome prose with deep thought stories. Reading Tipperary right now and wow, if I wrote Lit Fic, this is the kind I’d want to write.

  5. I went and dug up my old blog post about my Literary v. Genre Smackdown that came about because I, yes, challenged Toni Morrison:

    An excerpt:

    “Literary fiction is what you tell people you read. Genre fiction is what you actually read.”

    Oh, sit down and smooth those ruffled feathers. I think you protest just a bit too much.

    So what is genre fiction? The best definition I found divides genre into three distinctive types: “Setting,” such as westerns and science fiction; “Mood,” which includes romance, comedy, and horror; and “Format” such as music and sculpture.

    As writers we are not as concerned with format as we are mood and setting. I added another classification: action. In genre fiction, something happens. Genre is generally more plot-driven than literary. The essence of the story is action, whether it’s falling in love or falling into a bottomless chasm of flesh-eating demons. While character development is important, genre fiction rarely has the convoluted self-tortured analysis of literary fiction. In genre, something has to happen.

    Back to my personal conclusions. Genre fiction does something. The conflict and resolution are the crux of the story. A flaw in amateur (and way too much professional) science fiction and fantasy is too much setting development. So much goes into describing the fantastical world of the writer’s imagination that the action is lost. In horror, too much can go into descriptions of the supernatural and glorifying the bug-eyed monsters. In genre, resolution is paramount. You have to finish the story.

    Give me Steinbeck and Larry McMurtry every day of the week. I don’t need “quick fast beach reads.” However, I don’t have a lot of recreational reading time and life is just too short for incomprehensible books.

    I’ve read “Gravity’s Rainbow” by Pynchon. I personally preferred “Dr. Strangelove.” And not a single kitten was injured by me having or stating this preference.


  6. I don’t read much ‘literary’ fiction because it’s frequently so depressing. Call me an escapist if you want, but I don’t need to expose myself to extra pessimism or negativity. Real life does enough of that, thanks. And I won’t tolerate books that ramble without getting to the point, no matter how pretty the turn of phrase or poetic the description.

    I enjoyed reading Faulkner–until I was required to read The Sound and the Fury for a lit class in college. Holy cow! Why would an author, especially a storyteller as good as Faulkner, do that to his readers?

    The Old Man and the Sea had me in tears. I was moved by the works of Amy Tan and Sherman Alexie, but I don’t read them anymore. Again, there’s that underlying sadness that does me in, and that seems to be a hallmark of literary stories.


    • Kathy, you bring up an issue I hadn’t thought about, but seems relevant. In fact, the noted novelist and writing teacher John Gardner talked about the kind of fiction that is merely “staring, because it’s fashionable, into the dark abyss.”

      There might be something a bit too fashionable about that kind of novel these days.

    • Kathy, just read this comment and I totally agree. Although I enjoy classics like Hardy’s “Jude the Obscure” (was depressed for days at the end), I think it’s more a cautionary story than a wallowing morbid look at all mankind. I love this quote by Kenneth Koch: “I thought, ‘There are a lot of poets who have the courage to look into the abyss, but there are very few who have the courage to look happiness in the face and write about it,’ which is what I wanted to be able to do.”

      I think this is a refreshing view. As an author, I do tend to probe into the morbid, sad things, but I always want to reflect hope, as well, because that’s how I see life.

  7. McCarthy has always been a hard read for me. Even when he went sci-fi dumpster diving with The Road.
    Call me lazy, but in the place where words become story I feel there should be imagery of the action not a mental picture of the author bent over his computer with a self satisfied smile. When I’m reading and I keep thinking the words on the page are an exercise in proving the author’s intelligence, that’s usually when I put the book down and move on.
    Literary fiction can be great though. Scott listed some great ones. However, pretentiousness on paper, disguised as story, irritates me.

  8. Until recently I’ve considered myself a genre reader who occasionally dabbles in Literary Fiction. I read Horror until the genre collapsed, then thrillers.

    Lately I’m hungering for tales with more meat on them, that stick with you after you close the book. I blame it on writers like Kate Atkinson and Gillian Flynn, who have definitely upped our game. But then I read something by Jennifer Egan and realize I’m enjoying it more than even the latest Lee Child (a guy who’s pacing is untouchable.)

    That being said, I still approach Literary Fiction the way you do a hungry tiger. I remember reading that very passage above (C. McCarthy?) One thing I can say is is style is instantly recognizable. Another is that I sure don’t want to read it.

    • Allow me to recommend “Three Graves Full” by Jamie Mason. Yes, she is a friend, but this is top notch literary work pubbed by S&S that is getting her rave reviews.

    • At the same time, No country for old men is one of my favorite books. I enjoyed Child of God and the Road. The Crossing was difficult for me to read but I appreciated the style of third person objective

  9. Apparently I missed last week’s column. I just went and read it now.

    Just like porn, I know literary fiction when I read it, even if it is difficult to define and describe. It can absolutely be my cup of tea. Richard Ford’s Canada is one of the best books I’ve read this year, and it’s literary fiction. I like Margaret Atwood, I like Don Delillio, and a whole lot more.

    But just because something is “literary” doesn’t make it good, or a given book enjoyable. There are bad literary books, just as there are bad genre books. There are the literary authors who inflict so much melodramatic meaning in relationships I practically vomit when I read their cover copy, and those who have to be just too clever, as in your example. I agree with you here. Lauded and successful though he may be, I can’t stand Cormac McCarthy’s works. Excepting the Coen brothers effort, I can’t even stand the movies made from them. I tried reading All the Pretty Horses not too long after it came out. Just didn’t get it. Couldn’t finish it. Saw the movie and still didn’t get it. I tried watching The Road. Fast forwarded through a lot of it. What a bleak, depressing bit of misery. I can’t even imagine slogging through the book. Obviously other people do. If they enjoy that, good for them. Something for everybody. At least he has a distinctive style.

    As for me, I’d rather read the passage from the genre fiction book with, IMHO, year’s funniest line, “The man’s got a monkey on his dick.”, than any passage from your example author.

  10. NOTE: Porter Anderson wrote me and said blogger wouldn’t take his rather lengthy response. I think there might be a word count issue. Frustrating! Fairness dictates that a portion of his eloquent reply be posted, so I am putting his conclusion here, and perhaps he’ll be able to post more forthwith. Here’s Porter:

    (1) I think it’s human nature to wish that everyone else liked what we like. We won’t change that, will we?

    (2) OK. At the same time, wishing everybody else read what we read is not a license to put off on those who don’t read what we like. That’s why I’m trying so hard not to come off as this supposed literary bully here – if that stuff is really out there, I surely don’t want to be a part of that.

    (3) Complaining that one is being persecuted for reading one kind of book by those who read other kinds of books is, actually, a pretty dicey game. I’d just ask readers of non-literary work to think carefully about whether they really have been sneered at by literary readers? Really? REALLY? When? In what setting? Who said what to whom? My guess is that this is usually an *assumption* of criticism, surely, not a case of being actively criticized, not the result of actual incidents. Who the hell has time to sit around slagging mystery readers?

    My own personal bottom line goes something like this:

    I think we probably have more entertainment than we need these days. The digital dynamic (an energy of distribution) supports it more readily than it supports eat-your-vegetables thoughtful work because the digital dynamic seeks its widest audience. And there’s simply a wider audience for entertainment than there is for “the serious stuff.” OK.

    But that doesn’t mean that those who love the serious stuff are putting off on entertainment fans.
    And maybe while still we’re serious, lol (I’m playing on Helen MacInnes’ great WHILE STILL WE LIVE ) those of us who like literary work need to work harder to make the point that that doesn’t mean we have no respect for genre work or its readers.

    Some of us – OK, three or four, lol – are worried about literary fiction. It hasn’t seemed to find its footing in the self-publishing movement, for example, as readily as some genre fiction has. We think this is an important thing to look at because we’d like not to see literary take some kind of bad hit with the advent of the digital dynamic. I do think this is worth thinking about, in the same way I’d worry if for some reason digital had threatened mystery or espionage or legal thrillers or romance. I don’t think we want to cede any form of literature to the digital disruption. Business, process, sure, sure, but not the stuff itself. I want it all to come out on the other end, gloriously digital and healthy.
    So. May all literature make it. And thanks again for the debate, sir. Always a pleasure.

  11. I’m wondering where the line is b/t “literary fiction” and “purple prose.” Regardless, though I used to be enamored with such writing, I realize that what I love to read is a strong, character driven story that might have some poetic lines in it, but isn’t so stuffed with poetry I wish the author would GO poet and just be done with it. Sometimes, the simplest writing has the most impact. I love a well-turned phrase as much as the next reader…but not a book so full of them I lose track of what’s going on.

  12. Completely agree, JSB.

    Also, the original reaction to your article by Mr. Anderson had me shaking my head and asking, “Sensitive much?” Sheesh. You didn’t make any of the points which he railed against.

    I am a bit surprised that you are a Moby Dick fan. For me, that narrative is too broken up, too heavy-handed, and too plodding to be appreciated in anything but a historical context. Kind of like Hugo but with devils instead of angels.

    • Thanks, Vincent. I do think Porter had in mind an internet vibe, and thought maybe I was an unwitting part of it. That happens, and I’m glad we got to further hash it out.

      As to Moby, there are parts that are dated which I give a pass to, owing to the time it was written. But I fell into the characters and the reach of ol’ Melville, who of course thought he had failed with the book.

  13. I always look forward to James Scott Bell’s posts. I find them very informative to this relatively new short story writer. However, some literary stories I’ve read don’t really have a full story-a lot of verbiage, etc. I’d like more information on the differences between literary and genre markets.

    • William Goldman tells an amusing story about reading literary short stories in the New Yorker when he was a teenager, and they all ended with an expatriate couple sitting at a cafe in France, and the woman sees a fly on the table. “And she understood.”

      He then read Irwin Shaw, and it was a revelation to him. Here was a storyteller! And that inspired Goldman to write.

  14. I have to be in the mood for literary fiction. I loved the ballroom scene in Masque of the Red Death, by Edgar Allan Poe, and the scene where Caliban speaks of dreaming in The Tempest, by William Shakespeare.

    “Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments
    Will hum about mine ears, and sometime voices
    That, if I then had waked after long sleep,
    Will make me sleep again. And then, in dreaming,
    The clouds methought would open and show riches
    Ready to drop upon me, that when I waked
    I cried to dream again.”

    Literary fiction makes me feel emotion at the thought of an idea or the revelation of some intangible concept, whereas genre fiction tells a story. I like both, but the mood is very different in each.

  15. What a great set of points you make here, Jim. And so many insightful comments as well. Everyone’s point of view makes so much sense, even the snarky ones.

    I do wonder, however, about the effect of TV and movies on our sensibilities. Yes, Story is king these days. It has to be if a novel is to compete with (name your show or awesome actor). But think about being a reader in a time when TV and film weren’t so ubiquitous…even a time when they didn’t exist at all. Most certainly folks wanted stories back then. Of course they did! The storyteller is the second oldest profession. However, there must have been a great pleasure for some people in reading complex writing like that of James Joyce, Marcel Proust, Virginia Woolf, Thomas Wolfe, and William Faulkner. There may have been more patience in the average reader as well taking on novels and stories that contained multiple levels of meaning and required lots of time to wade through. It can be so enjoyable reading great, complicated writing, luscious even — a luxurious bath in words and weird ideas and meanings. But it requires a weird almost zen approach … something hard to find (and hold onto) in this era of NCIS, Dexter, Will Smith, and Angelina Jolie.

    I do think that the best contemporary literary novels are truly amazing works of art — Infinite Jest, The Maytrees, Underworld, Beloved, and so, so, so many more.

    • Great point, David, about the effect of current pop culture. You know, we’ve seen the sad decline of what was called “middlebrow” fiction, the sort of stuff BOMC would publish in the 50s–James Jones, Norman Mailer. Work like that was often challenging and of high literary quality.

  16. JSB–Among other things, I used to teach composition to college students. One of my taglines was this: the best writing is invisible. It does nothing to draw attention to words printed on the page, and when this is accomplished, all the reader experiences is pure message, story, content, etc. The moment words materialize for the reader–because they’re the wrong ones, or misspelled, or punctuated all wrong, etc–the writing loses power. I still consider this a true and useful way of judging the written word. Bad popular fiction fails for this reason, and so does bad literary fiction. When literary fiction fails, it most often does so because the writer has become blinded by the magic of words for their own sake. When popular fiction fails, it’s because the reader becomes conscious of being manipulated by gimmicks. True, some readers want to be manipulated, even insist on it, and about this I have an opinion. But not one I’m going to share in a civil, thoughtful discussion like this one.

    • “…blinded by the magic of words for their own sake.”

      Well phrased, Barry. I’ve heard several former MFA students say it’s more about the sentences and the sound. That’s just not enough.

    • JSB–No, it isn’t enough. Because getting sentence and sound cadence to serve the moment in a story is also one of the more sophisticated ingredients that make for invisible writing.

  17. I read very little literary fiction. Most of it puts me to sleep. But several years ago I read “Tin God” by Terese Svoboda. Yes, I skimmed some parts, but there was a story there, so kept reading.

    I had the good fortune to meet Svoboda in a chatroom. She laughed when I asked her to explain what “literary fiction” meant. She said the most important thing is that the writing is pretty. Plot and character are secondary. Svoboda’s publishers have problems with her writing, because she has too much plot, and even humor!

    So I hang on to this book. Literary fiction? Sure, I read it too. 🙂

  18. The quote sounds like Cormac McCarthy, and I think the obscure Mexican terms clinch it. He’s an odd duck: He’s a real story teller, /and/ a literary stylist. But he doesn’t realize that his greatness is in his ability to show how his characters feel through descriptions of their actions and of the landscape, and in his poetic language, not in his butchering of grammar and his scorn for quotation marks and periods.

    He also has a blindness to ambiguity, often writing passages where critical pronouns, or who is speaking, cannot be resolved, He may end one sentence with “him” and start the next with “He”, and they refer to two different people. Or he may write critical lines of dialogue in Spanish.

    I think this is the fault of his editors not knowing which part of his sentences are literary greatness, and which are mistakes. Or perhaps his unwillingness to believe them. The problem is that literary fiction is a /culture/, one which elevates individual inspiration and eccentricity of style, praising writers for writing obscurely, like Faulkner or Shakespeare.

    But that said, you seldom find poweful imagery like McCarthy’s in commercial fiction. The editors haven’t got the guts to publish it. Or maybe they know better, know it won’t sell, because most people haven’t got the intelligence, or the short-term memory, to gather up all the pieces.and put them together in a way they’ve never seen before.

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