Sunday, October 18, 2009

Author Intent: A Comparison of WHITE TEETH and OLIVE KITTERIDGE

Jerome Stern has suggested that self-conscious writers, “often keep a great distance from their characters, sounding as if they were writing encyclopedia entries instead of stories.” He adds that the distance created by their insecurity can prevent the reader from fully engaging in the story—from becoming transported. (p289, Writing) I would add that there are instances when the author consciously chooses to hold the reader at arm’s length thus narrowing psychic distance and preventing full immersion into the fictive dream.

Did Smith consciously do so in TEETH? In 2005, five years after TEETH was released, Smith responded to a similar question with, "As I get older," Smith reflected, "I think I'll be clearer about what it is I'm trying to do. At the moment, I just sort of stumble through." Did Strout consciously seek to connect emotionally with the reader?

In a 2006 interview, Strout was asked what book most influenced her writing. She responded with The Journals of John Cheever and added, “…there was something about the honesty found in Cheever's journals that gave me courage as a writer. And his ability to turn a phrase, to describe in a breath the beauty of a rainstorm or the fog rising off the river... all this arrived in my life as a writer at a time when I seemed ready to absorb his examples of what a sentence can do when written with the integrity of emotion and felicity of language.” (p18, Olive)

The relationship between the fictive dream and the degree of intellectuality or emotionality of a novel as shaped by the lack of or use of sensory detail is inevitable. An effective writer may make a conscious choice to not engage or engage the reader in the fictive dream; on the other hand, the decision may be made de facto. But does it matter if the writer made a conscious decision? Perhaps not.

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