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Friday, March 10, 2006

World, my Oyster

Thoughts after reading James Woods’ essay, “Realism rules (still),” in Prospect

The reason that Realism is “now” assumed to be “'a genre' rather than a central impulse in fiction” is in great part for the very simple reason that “kinds” or genres have become more fluid of late. The impermeable membrane between kinds and kinds-of-authors has become permeable. As a result, the old piece of news that writers of genre fiction have long thought “literary fiction” a “genre” has finally seeped through the membrane and into the realm of “literary realism.”

As somebody who has published a book of poems and five novels without paying much attention to “movements” and trends—as one who has had the (dubious, no doubt!) freedom of obscurity—I find the struggle to articulate the “impulse” called realism and what is “deepest and most enduring” in it to be: a.) very interesting to consider for the length of the essay and some moments afterward; b.) irrelevant to following the footsteps of a joyful muse. I suppose that my Godine novella and my two FSG adult division novels would be called “literary realism.” The other two FSG novels—the ones sold to the YA market—are something quite other. Perhaps they are “literary fantasy.” But their roots are in Southern Appalachian history, something that befuddles some gate-keepers, accustomed to fanciful pseudo-European and particularly pseudo-English fantasy…

Yet I don’t really find any essential difference between a book like Catherwood and one like Ingledove. The pearls that I’m always diving after are always the same. Among them are a certain gusto, a freedom of language, and an evoking of heart-mind-soul that will cause black marks on a page to live.

Image source: royalty free photo, “No book was hurt in the making of this photo,” by mauro simonato, italy, at


  1. Okay,

    Now try teaching what the different "genres" are to 7th graders. Supposedly for purposes of THE test there are set genres, but as you have said, lines blur.

    As ever,

  2. Oh, I think we're living in soup time, when big spoons are stirring the pot!

    What you might do is teach what they were--and still sometimes are.

  3. Oh, Marly, you transcend all the silly divisions (and I'm sure you know it). Don't get strep throat! Just don't do it!

  4. You know, I think it's flu.

    And I had a flu shot, so all I've had is a flicker of a sore throat. I usually get everything they bring home.



    Better not celebrate too soon.


Alas, I must once again remind large numbers of Chinese salesmen and other worldwide peddlers that if they fall into the Gulf of Spam, they will be eaten by roaming Balrogs. The rest of you, lovers of grace, poetry, and horses (nod to Yeats--you do not have to be fond of horses), feel free to leave fascinating missives and curious arguments.