May 19, 2010

I just finished FOREVER ODD. This book, like most of yours, is packed full of subtle literary allusions. I probably get a small fraction of them. Does anyone ever notice this? You do intend it, don’t you? Or am I crazy? –Maxine, Texas

You may be crazy, Maxine. I don’t know you, so wouldn’t venture an opinion as to your sanity. Your neighbors and friends have got quite a web site going on the subject–maxinewhatanut.com–but I’m not prepared to make a judgment based on hearsay. I love the idea that I might be packing books full of literary allusions just by chance–like that infinite number of monkeys writing all the plays of Shakespeare, given an infinite length of time–or perhaps while in a trance. A writer of fiction has a deep bag of techniques with which to attempt to affect the reader on a subconscious level. This includes conforming metaphors and similes and imagery to a scheme that supports the underlying themes of a novel and also deepens character as revealed through point of view. It includes reaching for poetic meter now and then to make the prose surge along for a particular effect. And among dozens of other tools, there is literary allusion. None of these are things of which the reader needs to be aware. In fact, the more aware the reader is of them, the less effective they may be. The surface of a piece of fiction should be alluringly illuminated, but there are dimensions that fade down into ever deeper shadow, affecting us less consciously than by washing through the catacombs of the unconscious. After I’d been at this a long time, I realized that no matter how cunning the writer may be, even if he layers the story as exquisitely as a master pastry chef’s best phyllo, there will be a layer or two of which he himself is not consciously aware, or perhaps of which he is not aware at all. This is one of the reasons I say that fiction is a mysterious medium and that creating a fictional world puts you in touch with some higher creativity.

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