sam on wood


The title of How Fiction Works promises so much that it almost crosses over, like Harold Bloom’s Genius, into self-parody. And yet, if any modern critic could pull off such an outlandish feat of analytic strength, it would be Wood. He’s already proved himself to be our most consistently powerful analyst of how fiction works on a local level—author by author, text by text, word by word—so you’d expect him to be equally good on how fiction works in the abstract. Readers looking for the final unveiling of an airtight Woodian system, however, will be disappointed. Although the book makes some big argumentative noises—about, for instance, the relationship between fiction and “the real” (italics decidedly not mine)—it progresses not through closely reasoned chapters but through 123 numbered sections grouped around themes (Character, Dialogue, Flaubert). These sections range from a few lines to a few pages, and they skip quickly from novel to novel and anecdote to anecdote—a form that scatters what might have been the work’s argumentative force. (You might even say, again if you were in that special kind of mood, that Wood’s critical method is Chekhovian: He renounces the inhumanly streamlined “plot” of continuous argument in order to wander from detail to detail in search of epiphanic flashes.)

more from New York Magazine here. (h/t Asad)