Thanks for starting the ball rolling in your usual classy fashion, Sam. Not sure I can offer the same level of thoughtfulness (it's a gorgeous sunny morning and I'm still waking up) but I'll do my best to hang with the big dogs.
There's so much you've raised that I'd like to touch on but before I do, let me also add that FSG editor Lorin Stein will be appearing in these parts on Wednesday via a Q&A I'm conducting with him, so don't miss that either.
First, on the subject of re-reading books, an anecdote. Many, many years ago, when I was toiling in one of those endless succession of office jobs we all know so well, I worked with a nice old Southern gent named Bill. He was fast approaching retirement, kind of coasting a bit. He and I could not have been more different - a liberal and a conservative; a city boy and a shitkicker; opera and country music. Your basic red and blue scenario. And yet we became good pals and were quite fond of each other.
One day I mentioned to him that I began each year re-reading The Great Gatsby. Every January I would sit down with that 50,000-word marvel and read it in a single Sunday. And every single time, without fail, something new leapt to my atttention. Now, Bill could not for his life understand why anyone would waste time - those were his words, "waste time" - reading something he'd already read. I countered with the old standby "If it's not worth reading twice, it's not worth reading once." I urged him to try it, to humor me, which he did. (The book he chose is lost to my advanced case of CRS.)
I can say with all modesty that I changed Bill's life that day.
He came back the following week full of excitement - he'd done exactly what I suggested and had experienced a beloved book of his youth through entirely new eyes. And he was off and running now with a long list of books he wanted to read again. For all I know, he's busy filling his retirement with re-reading.
I'm now reading Ticknor for the fifth time and I'm struck anew by the miracle of voice that Heti pulls off. I remember some time ago, Steve Mitchelmore posted something (wish I could find the link) about challenging us to really be able to explain why we enjoyed a book so much, not to simply rely on tired platitudes. And as an NYU-reject and auto-didact, I've always worried that the reasons I embrace certain books won't stand up to scrutiny. But I know that voice comes first for me - hence my love of Banville. (I actually think he would enjoy Ticknor.)
I'm glad you see the humor in the book, Sam. I worried about that, wondering if folks would get just how blackly funny it is. And, like you ("I am friends like that"), I was perhaps slightly troubled by just how many Ticknor-ian tendencies I seem to embody. Which I also suspect is part of Heti's sly joke - what writer hasn't known envy and bitterness? Seems to go with the territory.
You also talk about length. I'm on record lamenting the modern, youthful tendency toward bloat, as though heft equals significance. (See Vollmann, William T or Wallace, David F. Sorry, Ed!) There's also, frankly, a presumption on behalf of the author in dropping 1400 pages into my lap. You'd damn well better be sure you're going to deliver something extraordinary and not merely prolix, given the claim on my time you're making. (Now, it's true I' m a slow-ish reader so this might feed my own bitterness.)
But Ticknor - like Gatsby - proves you needn't be long to be deep. You know I'm a screenwriter and one of the tricks of economy we employ is that it's enough to write INT. MANSION - DAY because people will bring their own ideas of the scene to that description. We use our own experiences to fill in the blanks. I know plenty of minimalist novels rely on similar tropes. But how many of us have experiences of 19th century Boston? And still, in her short novel, Heti has given us a rich and fully realized portrait of that world. Do you remember the scene in which Ticknor waits in the kitchen while Prescott's wife Claire fixes him a meal? That kitchen is as vivid to me as my own.
Interestingly, on the question of long v. short, I've also had an interesting email exchange regarding Etgar Keret's new collection The Nimrod Flip-out, which is outperforming expectations despite very little review coverage thus far. I suggested that it's because (a) the trade paper edition is considerably cheaper than a new hardcover and (b) the stories are very short - 1-2 pages each. Couple that with an interesting title and an eye-catching cover and it seems that perhaps it's bringing in younger readers - folks who don't have 30 bucks to spend on a hardcover, and whose attention spans click with the short short stories. So perhaps even the notion of fiction readers liking long works is on its way out.
All yours, Sam.