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A daily record of what I'm thinking about what I'm reading

To read about movies and TV shows I'm watching, visit my other blog: Elliot's Watching

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Curtis Sittenfeld's winning narrative style

Curtis Sittenfeld's story in New Yorker fiction issue, Show Don't Tell (what a great title for a story about a graduate writers' program!) is a great example of her winning and welcoming writing style. I don't mean this in a condescending way, but over her career she has developed a narrative voice that is witty, confidential, open and honest without a touch of morbidity or self-pity, very much like a friend telling you a story - or a friend you wish you had. (Lorrie Moore has or had a similar narrative voice, but with a sharper edge). This story covers a lot of ground in a small swath of time, a couple of days in the life of a grad-student in a writing program, Iowa, obviously, as she waits to hear if she's received a prestigious scholarship. During her wait, we learn about her many complex relationships with other grad students and with the 50-something woman who rents an adjacent apartment. She captures the mood and the ethos of time (the 1990s) and the narrator's time of life (20s), with only one off note (email in the 1990s? pretty rare I think). As she wryly notes, grad school was the time of her life when she read the least and talked about reading the most. Hah! So true. The tight narrative does include near the end a present-day coda, at which she is disillusioned about one of her grad-school friends and reflects on the many others who had no writing careers - though, with characteristic generosity, she notes that they are still "writers" based on the way the live and see the world. It may seem that writers writing about writing school is like entering a room with closed windows and not enough oxygen, yet Sittenfeld brings it off - and I'm sure she's launched a thousand conversations among fellow writers or former writers eager to unlock the roman a clef: who's the writer w/ the "cult-like" following? who's the big success who's turned out to be insufferable? Don't know, don't need to know - good story.

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