The magic moment…It is simply a psychological hot spot, a pulsation on an otherwise dead planet, a “real toad in an imaginary garden.” These queer moments, sometimes thrilling, sometimes just strange, momenets of setting off an altered state, a brief sense of escape from ordinary time and space–moments no doubt similar to those sought by religious mystics, or those experienced by people near death–are the soul of art, the reason people pursue it.

John Gardner in On Becoming a Novelist

That’s how it feels to read a good short story–there is something in it like that, that hits you.  And it’s not the same for everyone, which is why readers have different preferences, why editors might disagree.  As a writer, it’s a complex path.  I’ll have written a story, which seems only acceptable.  Then someone will read it, and they’ll fixate on one detail that somehow encompasses the whole damn thing for them.  And I look over it again–yes, that is a very nice detail, and does it resonate? Yes.  Did I plan it? No.  It just happens.  Boom.  That part looks good, keep going, try to do it again.  It’s hard.  It’s hard to believe those moments will happen when you feel you’re writing pages and pages of cathartic dribble.  But they do happen.  And I was thinking of these moments when I started reading Kathryn Davis’ The Thin Place, which I have very high hopes for (after reading an interview at Bookslut), when I came to the beginning of a new section on page 12:

The world was already acting strange millions of years ago. 

Water had its way with rock.  Liquid beat solid.  Ice is supposed to be obdurate, unyielding, but back then it rippled and flowed.  The glacier rode the world, and the world let it change it, like a girl riding her lover and turning his prick to foam.  Exactly the way it is today.

That is f-ing awesome.  That’s all there is to it.  And if you don’t agree with me, go read the actual book, and then if you still don’t see it, whatever–this is her sixth novel, so someone agrees with me.  It’s works on an extreme level.  And that takes confidence.  That takes a writer who believes in herself, who is ambitious, who takes risks.  There are grandios statements and vast brushstrokes, things that could be pinned cathartic dribble, but which actually strike people in their core when they encounter it, and that makes it art. I’m looking forward to reading the rest of The Thin Place.  And I’m glad there is room for this in the world of literary fiction: books which are not strictly realistic, but are maybe as truthful as it can get.

3 thoughts on “Moments

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  1. Re: f-ing awesome quote

    That really is some ballsy, visceral prose.
    To be able to balance that intense a progression of imagery, with such a cool, clipped, rhythm, and still not seem forced or overwritten…damn.

  2. I love this post so much. I tried to comment on it from your house but you were logged in, and I did not want people to think you were tooting your own horn or issuing your own kudos, as it were. I find it rare to feel that way when I read, let alone write, anymore.

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