A close look at writers’ crucial choices.
The latest contributor to The Art of series, novelist and Guggenheim Fellow Castellani (MFA Program/Warren Wilson Coll.; All This Talk of Love, 2013, etc.), offers an attentive reading of works by E.M. Forster, Lorrie Moore, Zoe Heller, Grace Paley, and Tayeb Salih, among others, to illuminate “the how and why” of narration. “There’s no shortage of excellent writing advice,” he observes; but rather than add to those instruction manuals, he investigates the writer’s imagination and process of searching for the “shape and voice” of a story. “Narration,” he writes, “is perspective in action,” revealing “the unique stamp of the narrator’s sensibility and his motley set of biases and agendas at the moment of telling.” The narrator “occupies the most powerful position,” claiming responsibility for a story and influencing “how the work will be read and enjoyed.” Castellani explains and provides examples of many narrative strategies, including free indirect narration (preferred by Forster), where the narrator “fuses with various characters one at a time”; second person—the intimate “you”—deftly handled in Moore’s early collection, Self-Help; and the currently trendy prismatic narration, where a story is told from the perspectives of several characters—a popular approach, Castellani believes, for writers uncomfortable with “the responsibility of exerting moral pressure, of formulating a broad social vision that might exclude entire swaths of readers.” An author who perpetuates a single perspective or reinforces a stereotype risks closing down the possibilities and complexities of fiction. In his own stories, Castellani hopes to “shine a light into the dusty corners of human experience, to resist the most accessible images, to make the specific universal and the universal specific; in short, to honor the power that perspective grants us.”
A modest, gracefully written meditation on creativity and craft.