Woods' own prose style is blessedly lucid. - Goodreads
Characterization has achieved life. - Goodreads
Readers see what makes for good or bad prose. - Goodreads
Wood never addresses plot, or pacing, or even theme. - Goodreads
All too often authors fall back on static imagery. - Goodreads
LibraryThing ReviewUser Review - LibraryThing
I confess, I came into this expecting to dislike it. But the first chapters were perfectly readable if derivative, and had enough small moments of insight that I was really keen to keep reading. Reviews such as Walter Kirn's in the NYT pushed me even further towards wanting to like Wood, since citing Huck Finn, On the Road and Jesus' Son as three 'masterpieces'* that Wood can't account for is a bit like suggesting that a book about fashion can't account for fashion masterpieces such as happy pants, pith helmets and edible underwear: maybe it can't, but that's probably for the best. And, pace Kirn, Wood can write--the fact that he doesn't feel the need to dip his penis in LSD prior to yawping about his own genius is, I think, a virtue. And then it all falls to pieces, because Wood is not only propagandizing for his own view of what good fiction is--as any critic should do. He also pretends that all good literature is what he thinks good literature is. I'm fine with someone writing a book about how 'realism' is the central impulse behind writing fiction, and saying that that realism consists in 'visual noticing,' detail (visual and or intellectual), sympathy with others, and revealing to us the motives of characters without spelling it out to us. I disagree, but this is a decent statement of a reasonable position. When you end up saying things like: "Shakespeare is essentially being a novelist" when Lady Macbeth and Macbeth have an argument onstage, or that Pope's 'Rape of the Lock' is "an early form of free indirect style," you can only do damage to those works or our understanding of them. The fact that Pope's work and Shakespeare's works are great *despite* not being realism suggests that fiction can be great without being what Wood considers realism. Claiming them for your argument is underhanded, like saying Karl Malone is a Laker great because he played one season for the Lakers; any sensible understanding of his career sees him as a Jazz great. And it goes downhill from there. Wood considers plot to be essentially juvenile (his words, 149), he has nothing interesting to say about dialogue, and concludes that fiction is concerned mainly to accurately see "the way things are", that is, to be true to life. Therefore, any literature that tries mainly to do something else (e.g., tries to make you laugh, tries to make you cry, tries to suggest how things *should* be, complains about the way things are) falls outside his understanding of fiction, unless it's so great (Shakespeare; Pope; Kafka is about how it would feel to be an insect) that it just can't be doing anything other than what a few nineteenth and twentieth century novelists are trying to do. Wood has written a polemic against the likes of Roland Barthes, without understanding the force of their argument--an argument that is, I agree, foolish and misguided. He quotes Barthes: "The function of narrative is not to 'represent,' it is to constitute a spectacle still very enigmatic for us but in any case not of a mimetic order... 'what takes place' in narrative is, from the referential (reality) point of view literally nothing; 'what happens' is language alone, the adventure of language, the unceasing celebration of its coming." Wood argues against i) the obviously true claim that literature doesn't refer to anything. But, to take one of Wood's own examples: Isabel Archer does not exist, therefore the name Isabel Archer is not referring to some actually existing thing. Something else is going on. How is that anything other than a statement of fact? ii) Barthes's opposition to conventionality. Despite the fact that there is no mention here of conventionality, Wood assumes that the argument must be something like 'because fiction uses conventions, it can't refer to reality.' And that that is an attack on conventions in literature. His response is to say that everything is conventional, therefore Barthes is talking nonsense. But the the really obnoxious bit here is the completely unfounded claim that literature is just the celebration of the 'coming' of language,...