Author Archives: James Warner

Avoiding Words of Foreign Origin

Maybe without the importation of foreign words and ideas into Russia, the Revolution couldn’t have happened.

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Parts Fitting Together

Every event that occurs in a novel sheds light on all the novel’s other events.

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Housman’s Razor

“A. E. Housman’s test of a true poem was simple and practical; does it make the hairs at one’s chin bristle if one repeats it silently while shaving.”

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We’re Sorry. This Book is too Well Written for us.

Steve Almond has a future-of-publishing piece up on The Rumpus, touching on what it’s like dealing with an agent who says your novel is “too literary” for today’s market.

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Sacred Hunger, by Barry Unsworth

Sacred Hunger is set a few decades before the American Revolution or French Revolution — but we feel them brewing in the novel’s every line.

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The Way Forward Into Light

Margaret Atwood, Negotiating with the Dead — “Obstruction, obscurity, emptiness, disorientation, twilight, blackout, often combined with a struggle or path or journey – an inability to see one’s way forward, but a feeling that there was a way forward, and that the act of going forward would eventually bring about the conditions for vision – […]

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Fiction as Moral Technology

Richard Hughes, Fiction or Truth — “… for most of us Fiction in one form or another offers our only way of experiencing the identity of others. This identity is the necessary ground of Ethics.”Maryanne Wolf, Proust and the Squid — “This period of childhood provides the foundation for one of the most important social, […]

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Generalizations About Thin Women

“She never puts on any weight, you’ll notice that’s often true of selfish women.” — Joan Didion, Play it as it LaysIt’s part of the job of novelists or their characters occasionally to throw out such over-generalizations. Ideally they ring somewhat true, or at least tell us something about the narrator.From David Foster Wallace’s story […]

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Trauma, Perpetual Adolescence, the Moneyed Person’s Whims

Nathan Heller, writing in “Slate” —“Nine Stories is a book about war trauma, but in its setting, storylines, and style, it is the most oblique war narrative imaginable. Salinger captured the personal refractions of a national crisis and placed them into the hollowed-out shell of domestic narrative. This was, in many ways, the genesis of […]

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Fraudulent Henshaws

Here Salinger invented a good example of a bad first line — we disbelieve in Henshaw from the get-go.

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Seymour Glass Says Good Night

I have some thoughts on J. D. Salinger up at Open Democracy.Will we find out now what he was up to for the last forty-five years? There should be a word “privashing,” meaning “to do the opposite of publishing.” Kafka privashed most of his work – although the concept is clearly contradictory from the get […]

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Robert Cormier’s The Chocolate War

This book blew me away when I first read it in the late 1970s. I was a pre-teen then, and I’d never been to America, so the whole American context of the book was strange to me. I still don’t know if Catholic schools on the East Coast are actually like this… maybe I’m better […]

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Muckers, Muckrakers and Mythmakers

Tom Wolfe wrote — in the appendix to his classic piece “The New Journalism,” which for now you can find here — that myth couldn’t have been “further from the minds of the realists who established the novel as the reigning genre over a hundred years ago. As a matter of fact, they were turning […]

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On Realism and Werewolves

Susan Palwick’s story “Gestella” can be found in her collection The Fate of Mice. It’s a very realistic portrayal both of the ways men mistreat women, and of the ways men mistreat wolves.Palwick could have made the woman and the wolf distinct victims, but then the parallel between their fates might have felt too forced, […]

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Describing Body Language

A playwright who used to write short stories told me how much he likes being able to leave it up to actors how to interpret a line of dialog.A novelist who writes “He stared wistfully into space” may feel obliged to strike it out as a cliché, then try to come up with something more […]

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