At n+1 this week Gary Sernovitz invokes James Wood’s concept of hysterical realism in a critical review of Gary Shteyngart’s latest novel (which I enjoyed). Sernovitz argues that Absurdistan suffers from a “narrative gluttony” that “robs the book of consequences and thus of consequence.” He also excerpts Thomas Wolfe’s onetime rejoinder to F. Scott Fitzgerald:
Just remember that although Madame Bovary in your opinion may be a great book, Tristram Shandy is indubitably a great book, and that it is great for quite different reasons. It is great because it boils and pours — for the unselected quality of its selection. You say that the great writer like Flaubert has consciously left out the stuff that Bill or Joe will come along presently and put in. Well, don’t forget, Scott, that a great writer is not only a leaver-outer but also a putter-inner, and that Shakespeare and Cervantes and Dostoevsky were great putter-inners — greater putter-inners, in fact, than taker-outers and will be remembered for what they put in — remembered, I venture to say, as long as Monsieur Flaubert will be remembered for what he left out.