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CONVERSATIONS WITH AMERICAN NOVELISTS by Kay Bonetti

CONVERSATIONS WITH AMERICAN NOVELISTS

By Kay Bonetti

Pub Date: Dec. 1st, 1997
ISBN: 0-8262-1136-4
Publisher: Univ. of Missouri

 Fifteen interviews of both literary and commercial novelists, recorded over the past two decades by Bonetti for the American Audio Prose Library and all originally published in the Missouri Review. As the editors point out in their introduction, these writers are ``chronologically postmodern.'' True, but few of the novelists, who include Tom McGuane, Jim Harrison, John Edgar Wideman, Rosellen Brown, Scott Turow, Robb Forman Dew, and Jessica Hagedorn, would seem to fit the self-conscious, often playful, ``metafictional'' postmodern vein of writers like John Barth, William Gaddis, or Thomas Pynchon. The interviews are more about ideas, publishing histories, and reputations than about craft. Robert Stone, interviewed in 1982, says those who interpret the underlying message in his writing as ``Despair and die'' are mistaken. He cites Dickens as a role model for his ability to entertain himself and his readers with plot. His favorite novel? The Great Gatsby. Jamaica Kincaid (1991) desribes writing New Yorker ``Talk of the Town'' pieces as excellent preparation for fiction writing. What's missing largely from these interviews are technical discussions of the mechanics of writing dialogue and fleshing out characters, and of working methods (who uses a journal, who writes longhand or by typewriter or computer), the ecstasy and grind of composition. But these lacks don't detract from the information we are given. One of the best pieces is the talk with Louise Erdrich and the late Michael Dorris, conducted in 1986. The husband-and-wife team discuss the general strategy of their unusual collaborationist writing approach--they plot their novels together, but one or the other does the first draft; that person's name then goes on the finished product, such as Love Medicine (hers) and A Yellow Raft in Blue Water (his). Like a selection of one-act plays, these conversations offer illuminating if limited glimpses of contemporary writing careers.