What makes a story a story? What is style? What’s the connection between realism and real life? These are some of the questions James Wood answers in How Fiction Works, the first book-length essay by the preeminent critic of his generation. Ranging widely—from Homer to David Foster Wallace, from What Maisie Knew to Make Way for Ducklings—Wood takes the reader through the basic elements of the art, step by step.
The result is nothing less than a philosophy of the novel—plainspoken, funny, blunt—in the traditions of E. M. Forster’s Aspects of the Novel and Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style. It sums up two decades of insight with wit and concision. It will change the way you read.
At its modest best, James Wood s first book-length study reasserts an idea that most average readers already assume: that literature is a reflection and imitation of reality, that art connects us to the world, and that style serves as our best measure of that connection. Of course, literary academics, for the most part, deny most of these once commonplace notions. And Wood -- one of the most celebrated and controversial writers on fiction currently working -- isn t exactly sure who his audience is for this otherwise sensible and cleanly written meditation. Make no mistake: far from a how-to or beginner's guide to fiction, this collection of 123 little pieces ranges from instructive anecdotes to head-on engagements with some heavyweight critical theorists. This impressive range produces its own drawback -- Wood maintains multiple levels of diction that will confuse those expecting the graceful style on display in so many of his much-admired essays.