Thursday, November 17, 2011

We Me You, Ctd

We rarely criticize a novel or short story for featuring characters who engage in plausible situations with realistic motives, who interact with characters in dramatic ways, who balance belief and skepticism, and who essay their lives for meaning and value.  We praise the work of fiction that manages, in an artful, entertaining way, to pull this off.  Why do some insist on undervaluing autobiographical writing that manages to do the same thing: feature a persona who engages in plausible situations with realistic motives, who interacts with characters in dramatic ways, who balances belief and skepticism, and who essays his or her life for meaning and value?

We love memorable fictional characters who are rendered in the first-person.  (Name your favorite here.)  One of the magic tricks of this first-person perspective is that the reader gets more bang for his buck: two stories at once! The story being narrated, and the story of the effect of the story on the narrator.  This happens in well-written autobiography, as well.  Why the denigration, the roll-eye, at this first-person narrator?

We rarely criticize a novel or short story for being about life in all of its complexity, its joys and sorrows.  Autobiography or memoir that aspires to art is not simply somebody writing about himself: it's somebody writing about being human.  Criticize that.

3 comments:

Richard Gilbert said...

Preachin' to the choir here, Joe, but nicely said. Congrats on your Pushcart nomination for Into the Fable, my favorite of Brevity's nominees!

Joe Bonomo said...

Thanks, Richard!

Mandy Len said...

"We rarely criticize a novel or short story for being about life in all of its complexity, its joys and sorrows."

Interestingly, it seems that most of this criticism comes not from the general public but from people who write or read fiction exclusively. The assumption that there is some greater value to honest personal reflection when it's disguised as fiction can only be made by people who don't read literary nonfiction.

Well said!

mandy

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