On Saturday mornings, Splice rounds up the previous week’s best literary criticism and serves it up to you in a single dish. You didn’t have any plans for the weekend, did you?
In home news this week, Splice masthead contributor Daniel Davis Wood wrote about Hernan Diaz’s In the Distance for Necessary Fiction:
Diaz doesn’t go for the easy option of allowing an omniscient narrator to explain what’s happening around Håkan, or what’s going on inside his head, whenever the boy is mystified or alienated by events. Nor does he resort to first-person prose that allows Håkan to spell out his confusions, his emotions, his desires and his hopes. Instead, Diaz tries his hand at some aesthetic alchemy. Literary naturalism requires readers to infer the thoughts and feelings of a character from a more or less objective description of their behavior. Free indirect style conveys a character’s impressions of the surrounding world by channelling them into largely depersonalized, third-person prose. Diaz amalgamates these two technical devices, applying free indirect style to a character who has to read his own world the same way we read naturalistic literature — one who can only observe incomprehensible things and guess at their apparent meanings, their seeming causes, and their potential names.
Elsewhere, it’s been a strong week for literary criticism in two particular publications: Full Stop and The Quarterly Conversation. At Full Stop, a particular highlight was Emma Ramadan’s take on Andrés Barba’s new story collection The Right Intention:
His writing is populated mostly by the inner thoughts of his characters, and from there the reader can imagine and construct all the scenery, the full backdrop to their reading experience. Whereas Such Small Hands was almost otherworldly, each of the stories in The Right Intention feels utterly real. What Barba seems particularly interested in showing his readers is that moment of tension when the character knows they’ve gone too far. They’re already hurtling towards their own demise, or someone else’s. Their mind was most likely made up before the story even started. Marina of Such Small Hands comes up with an idea for a sinister game that results in her own catastrophic end. In each of the stories in The Right Intention, Barba shows us four people on their own road to ruin.
Also noteworthy is Clint Williamson’s review of Alfred Döblin’s Berlin Alexanderplatz, newly translated by Michael Hofmann:
The great successes of the novel really come from its embrace of formal experimentation, when that technique of montage cuts the reader away from the narrative and characters it has placed at its center and shows us the briefest moments of a helplessly entangled world. These little scenes showcase Döblin’s ability to elucidate the fine details of individual desperation meeting with cosmic cruelty.
And a new issue of The Quarterly Conversation is always an event worth paying attention to. Highlights of the current issue include Robert E. Tanner on Mathias Énard and Tony Malone on Junichiro Tanizaki, but there are three particular standout pieces. First up is Jean Yoon on North Station, the new story collection by Bae Suah (pictured above):
This is Bae’s signature idiom: digressive loops and associations weave a complex and multimodal prose that emphasizes the heterogeneousness of lived experience. Memory, dreams, and imagination not only swarm the field of the “present-now” but are integral to its immanence — vivid, still-living, co-present.
In the rare writerly subgenre of literary criticism that’s better than the book it is about, Barrett Hathcock has a perceptive take on Richard Ford’s Between Them: Remembering My Parents:
What a strange, self-defeating way to approach a memoir of one’s parents. If they are not ultimately “employable literary instruments,” why write about them at all? And don’t they — simply by virtue of being now written about — become literary instruments thus employed? It’s as if he wants to capture them, but not too forcefully, and he wants the reader to understand them, but not too clearly.
And The Endless Summer, a newly translated work from the Danish “novelist, poet, artist, performer, stage director, composer, and singer” Madame Nielsen, receives judicious consideration by Joseph Schreiber:
The success of this unlikely, sprawling reverie with its expansive cast and uncertain timeline lies in the emotionally absorbing, reflective tone of the narrative. To read is to submit, to trust the voice. The repeated descriptive motifs are reassuring rather than affected. When new characters appear, instantly vivid portraits are created with the capture of curious details and ineffable traits and qualities.
And away you go! See you back here on Monday…