Wolff, Byatt

The first chapter of Tobias Wolff’s Old School is online at The New York Times Book Review this weekend, alongside the first chapter of former president Carter’s The Hornet’s Nest.

A.O. Scott finds that the Wolff novel “is about nothing if not the making of a writer — though it is also, just as plainly, about a writer’s failure.” Later in the review, Scott says:

Wolff has a curiously prim sense of novelistic decorum. It’s as though he did not want to invade the privacy even of his own fictional creations.

His reticence shrinks the novel’s scope, but at the same time sharpens its point, which is that telling the truth in fiction — or, more generally, in writing — is both logically impossible and morally essential.

I’ve been on an A.S. Byatt kick around here, but should mention a dissenting voice. Mary Flannagan is unimpressed with Byatt’s latest short story collection. Of one story, she says, “poetic litanies and virtuoso descriptions do not a story make.” Of another, “This heady pleasure in naming turns her own story to stone.”

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