Category Archives: fiction

“The Hopper painting hung on the wall with an indifference so vast it began to feel personal, as though it had been painted for this moment”

The passage continues: “Your troubles are huge and meaningless, it seemed to say, there is only the sun on the side of the house.”  The troubles of the people in this illuminating book are vast indeed: no novelist, including Charles … Continue reading

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“The truth is that my greatest enemies stand not within the crowd outside . . “

What will happen when the reigning 92-year-old queen of England, Elizabeth II, dies and her son Charles, Prince of Wales, becomes king?  This play by Mike Bartlett, which PBS presented last Sunday, speculates that Charles will make a desperate attempt … Continue reading

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“It comes over him in a wave: He’s been wrong about his Tempest, wrong for twelve years.”

Anyone can retell as classic story, but changing a play by Shakespeare while remaining true to the themes and lessons of the original requires skill. Changes were needed, Margaret Atwood told a standing-room-only crowd in Madison, Wisconsin this week, to  … Continue reading

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“What’s past is prologue”

At first glance, this line from Shakespeare’s play “The Tempest” suggests that history repeats itself.  This view is written in stone – literally – on the base of the National Archives’ sculpture.  The Harvard Gazette and the University of Chicago … Continue reading

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“It was impossibly large and full of beauty and danger in equal parts – and we wanted it all.”

Paula McLain’s novel The Paris Wife describes Hemingway’s earliest years as a novelist writing in Paris after WWI from the perspective of his wife, Hadley. It’s a wonderful novel, set in one of the most dynamic literary periods, where James … Continue reading

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“Can you tell a story that doesn’t begin, it’s just suddenly happening?”

In each of the six short stories in this collection, which won the 2015 National book Award, things suddenly happen on the first page: there are no descriptions of the setting, no background information.  Instead, the story seems to be … Continue reading

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“Keeping secrets was the family business.”

What should you tell?  What should you leave out? These used to be the most important questions for memoirists and for writers of all genres.  However, I have come to believe that we are entering a new era where the … Continue reading

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Five Intriguing Ideas from 2016 Books

This blog focuses on one idea from one book each week, and so selecting just five from the 50 or so that I’ve published in 2016 is a challenge. But after looking through them all, I have to say that … Continue reading

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Five Best Novels of 2016

The five novels that rose to the top of my 2016 list are: The best word to describe Elizabeth Strout’s My Name is Lucy Barton is exquisite. What I love about Strout is her ability to dive right in to … Continue reading

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“There’s work to be done, there are plots to be plotted, there are scams to be scammed, there are villains to be misled!”

This may be Margaret Atwood’s greatest masterpiece. In Hag-Seed, she retells Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” by turning it inside-out and adding a layer.  It’s a play within a play within a novel.  This restructuring results in a  hybrid form of story-telling … Continue reading

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“The christening party took a turn when Albert Cousins arrived with gin.”

I predict that this opening sentence of Ann Patchett’s new novel, Commonwealth, will become one of those classic opening sentences that creative writing instructors refer to when talking about creating tension right out of the gate.  Who is Albert Cousins?  … Continue reading

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“You need to develop some social skills. Some tact, some restraint, some diplomacy.”

To mark the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, Hogarth commissioned “today’s best-loved novelists” to retell “the world’s favourite playwright’s” dramas.  Anne Tyler’s novel Vinegar Girl is based on “The Taming of the Shrew,” a play that Tyler said she hated … Continue reading

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“What was consciousness other than the surface of the soul’s ocean?”

In a Paris Review interview, Jesse Barron observes that Karl Ove Knausgaard’s work is “so aesthetically forceful as to be revolutionary.” What makes it revolutionary is Knausgaard’s goal to write “as close to life as possible” even if it means … Continue reading

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“Felicity rubbed a bit between her fingers. It was gray, just grit.”

This is how the great-granddaughter of Iowa farmers Walter and Rosanna Langdon describes what’s left of the topsoil on the original family farm when she visits it in the closing pages of The Last Hundred Years Trilogy by Jane Smiley.  … Continue reading

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“Rosa was a perfect example of an only child, thought Claire – she behaved herself, but it was because she was always on the stage and the lights were always up. “

If you were a novelist, what compliment would you most like to see in a review of your work?  A comparison to Tolstoy, perhaps? That compliment was in fact given in the British newspaper, the Guardian, in a review of … Continue reading

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