Sunday, January 13, 2013


Yesterday I finished reading a Frankennovel.  An award-winning Frankennovel, no less.

A Frankennovel is stitched together out of good and bad parts and brought to lurching life by an artificial external energy source (usually a jolt called Publication). The good parts are shapely and in working order, the flawed parts uneven or mismatched or bolted together.

But flaws are not the problem; readers will overlook or forgive or forget the flaws of living novels.

Frankennovels feel to me like exercises in novels. Like the author wanted to Write a Novel, and so assembled the parts, and pieced them together with skill. But the story started off dead, and remains dead at heart. 

Then I thought about the award, and wondered if it’s the reader’s job to bring the beating heart. Maybe the failing was mine. While contemplating the question, I came across this line in Peter Schjeldahl's review of an exhibition of abstract art at MOMA:

“The proof of any art’s lasting value is a comprehensive emotional necessity: it’s something that a person needed to do and which wakens and satisfies corresponding needs in us.”*

Not every novelist can write in the fever dream that Garcia Marquez says produced One Hundred Years of Solitude.  But that compulsion is necessary for lesser novels as well. What Schjeldahl calls a ”comprehensive emotional necessity” never arises from the desire for publication or from the idea of Writing a Novel (or Being a Writer). It’s a love affair with the story. That is the beating heart. 

* Schjeldahl, Peter. "Shapes of Things." The New Yorker: 7 Jan. 2013: 68

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