Friday, August 03, 2007

Withholding Consolation

Jim Shepard on resisting "the tyranny of the epiphany":

Now, as I understand it, a short story, by definition, does have a responsibility, in its closing gestures, to enlarge our understanding, but it seems to be increasingly difficult for writers to resist allowing their hapless protagonist a new understanding as well—an understanding that will set him or her on the path to a more actualized life. This is, as we all know, the age of the Oprah Book Club, whose credo is that a book is useful precisely to the extent that it conjures up for us a ratification of our own particular experience and can thereby be morphed into a self-help text. It's not our task, though, to save our characters, however adorable we secretly find them. We should not, in other words, be afraid to withhold consolation.

From Jim Shepard, "I Know Myself Real Well. That's the Problem." In Charles Baxter & Peter Turchi, eds., Bringing the Devil to His Knees: The Craft of Fiction and the Writing Life (2001).


Veronica Mitchell said...

Hmm. Thought-provoking. I still confess a love of happy endings, however.

JCR said...

This is an interesting passage, and a fine one too to obsfucate the real intentions behind the Oprah Book Club... thanks for posting it.