sixth essay: joan silber’s “weight in fiction”

Spent a few nights revising course syllabi for the upcoming spring term so I wandered away from my goal to read through Bringing the Devil to His Knees. And I did want to finish before the term but the brain of school and work is here so I’ll press on, and perhaps this will inspire me to create some new material for the new writing group I’m joining next week.

Anyway, I want to quickly recap what I’ve read: the last two essays–Steven Schwartz’ “Finding a Voice in America and Chuck Wachtel’s “Behind the Mask: Narrative Voice in Fiction”—gave some great insight into the authority within fiction of the subjective voice. Tonight I’m looking at Joan Silber’s “Weight in Fiction” and struck with the idea of appreciating work that is “miniature” and yet not “slight”. Silber gives the example of Jane Austen and how her fictive spaces are placed in “a distinctly limited sphere”—narrow range of event I think is meant by this—and yet at the same time concerned with universal truths. And according to Silber’s analysis, Austen accomplishes this with “authorial ‘telling’”. This is something we came to in workshop last term—the idea that yes showing is better than telling but at times you need to control moments of telling to control limits and pace of story. And another tool Silber credits to Austen is the idea of consequence—characters making ineradicable decisions concerning their futures. Great stuff. I won’t make fun of D for watching all those Jane Austen adaptations she’s always pulling up on Netflix.

I like this idea of mundane worlds, actions and events—as in the everyday banality of life—and then to assign rank and meaning within those worlds, action and events. I think I wrote about this Stanley Kubrick documentary where he obsesses over the mundane details in his film–mundane dialogue and mundane moments that add up to or perhaps leap to overall meaning. Contrasts Silber resolves at the end of the essay. Contrasts that become so important for the writer’s intuition with form must tackle as stories are formed.

More on this as I think of it…

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john paul jaramillo

John Paul Jaramillo’s debut story collection The House of Order was named a 2013 Int’l Latino Book Award Finalist, and his most recent work Little Mocos is now available from Twelve Winters Press. In 2013 Latino Boom: An Anthology of U.S. Latino Literature listed Jaramillo as one of its Top 10 New Latino Authors to Watch and Read. He is currently a professor of composition and literature at Lincoln Land College-Springfield, Illinois.

2 thoughts on “sixth essay: joan silber’s “weight in fiction””

  1. And remember–it’s the JA books that I LOVE. Really, you’ll have to let me read out loud to you from JA sometime!

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