WHAT THE HELL

Kevin Brennan Writes About What It's Like

Watch your step!

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I was just reading this terrific interview with George Saunders, and it got me thinking that one of the things that makes fiction so powerful is that life really is on shaky ground. We’re all walking across a gorge on a very flimsy bridge — like in The Man Who Would Be King — and things can happen at any time that make it harder, or impossible, to keep from tumbling off.

In fiction, the precariousness of life is always casting indirect light on the story. Even the most mundane existence — like a lot of Saunders’s protagonists lead — is susceptible to unforeseen catastrophe and crisis. It’s the reality that there is no script, no plan, no guarantee, and no overarching meaning in things that gives fiction its bite. What characters endure and how they come out of it informs our own world. We can be reassured when they reach catharsis, moments of profound understanding.

Maybe I’m thinking this way today because it’s raining and dark outside, I’m alone in the house (which is a metaphor of another stripe), and I’m waiting for some news that will help me decide what to do next. But even stepping outside myself, I find it useful every now and then to think about the rattletrap bridge and realize that we’re all trying to keep from stumbling as we cross.

The nice thing about Saunders, though, is he takes you along with a wink and a nod, humor, and respect. You feel like you’re there with his characters. You’re familiar with their anxiety — that there’s no safe way to get off this bridge. You just keep going.

If you haven’t read it, pick up Saunders’s story collection, The Tenth of December. It helps.

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3 comments on “Watch your step!

  1. 1WriteWay
    April 4, 2014

    I do need to pick up his book. I’m rather embarrassed to admit that I haven’t read any of his work yet.

    • Kevin Brennan
      April 4, 2014

      You’ve probably read some of his stuff in the New Yorker and didn’t realize it was him. He’s sort of the Raymond Carver of this era…

      • 1WriteWay
        April 4, 2014

        Sadly, we dropped our subscription because neither of us had time to read it. We’d only get as far as reading the cartoons when the next issue would arrive. We’ve decided to stick with periodicals that publish only once a month (or biweekly in the case of the NY Review of Books) 😉

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This entry was posted on April 3, 2014 by in Writing and tagged , , , .
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