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Steven Augustine

Dan, I think this piece draws attention to the ever-encroaching, and insidiously difficult to pin down, boundary-slip between a certain kind of professionally competent story-telling (which owes a profound debt to television) and great writing.

Detecting the difference between the two was a slightly more common talent, back when the writers everyone was reading had been raised reading books (plus a weekly dash of cinema), rather than on six-to-eight hours a day of TV: there's now a shared blandness about language that's irrelevant to entertainment value but death to literary Art.

Books are now less about words and sentences than setpieces and segues; the question of what's cliché or not is becoming beside the point. The point is becoming: does it "work"?


I am blown away that anyone would want to join the military in order to gain life experience to become a better writer. I know a lot of people who join to get away from home or make money (those signing bonuses are a big draw) but life experience to be a writer? Did he really read "The Things They Carried"? Who on earth would go avidly looking for that sort of experience so they could write about it?

Somewhere, Tim O'Brien is shaking his head in disbelief.

(I'm also confused how Eck could say later in the Asher interview that he didn't expect to be under fire - again, did he really read the books on war that he claims to have read? If so, they sure didn't make much of an impact as to what war is like.)


Thanks for the link, Dan, though I must say that your sharper critique has swayed my opinion and thus, made me blush to read my own thoughts quoted back to me. Well, that's what good criticism does. Thank you.--Anne


I've been rummaging through the back streets of the information junkyard trying to confirm my opinion of Eck's book, so thank you for it.

To follow on Steven's point, we're ('modern readers') part of that problem, I think, in our willingness to conflate "minimalism" as a style with the stylistically threadbare. Eck's experience was -- no doubt -- traumatic, harrowing, ad naus, and I'd have loved to read it in, say, a sprawling New Yorker profile.

Which is not to say that it couldn't have made for Good Fiction (bumpycase only to admit the eye-rolling arrogance involved in making such a call), but that it takes more than rote recollection and the sensibility of to-the-bones-and-back workshopping to do so. Or maybe I'm just a first-rate asshole who demands too much in her fiction, beats me.


Colleen--you should read the biography of Malcolm Lowry. Even the greatest writers intentionally seek out experiences that are tainted by their writerly ambitions, etc.

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