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Apr 24, 2006




This is like the long-book lover's guide to the short novel. "Here's everything I'd throw into Ticknor to create the 800-page book I love from the 200-page book I am given." You forgot the wronged man from Ticknor's past, lurking around corner waiting to do him harm. Or the shopgirl who silently pines for him. Or the Wellsian time-traveler who will transport him to present-day New York.

No criticism is more futile that that based on the notion that there is one model to which all novels must conform. Legions of Ed Champion fans - dare I appoint myself as their leader? - will remain in blind, groping confusion until you explain yourself further.



Sam's comment is out and out correct. No slim book stands a chance when you concentrate on what could have been written instead of explicating what was written.


I believe Ed's point is to respond to the comparison of Heti's short novel to the long novels by those mentioned in the post.


That's how I read it too, Derik.

Personally, I love a good short novel. There's a special kind of openness and depth that can be created by the kind of sparseness required in most short novels. You often see this is in the best YA fiction. But, for me, Ticknor didn't achieve that. I found the prose more or less flat and so the world and the story felt flat as well.

And we can all be right at the same time, even though we disagree. Tomato, tomahto.


I blame the condition of the streets. Have you seen the condition of the streets?

If only I hadn't raised the issue of long books versus short books.

I think I'll just leave my pie on the lid of a garbage can for some cats.


Derik is right.

To clarify some of what I was getting at here (and hopefully this makes some kind of sense), I was suggesting that fiction has a duty to provide the reader with explicit connections that he might be able to unfurl. In this case, I was pointing out that Baker, Elkin and Fox have all used metaphors or environments as conduits between a character's emotions and the people or objects which influence or affect that character's emotional makeup. But Heti opts out of this, largely because (a) her book is, as pointed out by Mark, an internal monologue and (b) the book is short and strives for an economical feel in which it must cut out much of this.

So one might be able to criticize shorter novels as much as longer novels for sometimes being TOO subtle about character motivations.

However, I also believe that Mike's criticism is valid. It is quite difficult to second-guess the author. By taking apart the above passage, I had hoped to provide some clues as to why "Ticknor" skimped out on its dimensionality. But the risk of stating one's position along the lines is that one comes across as unintentionally hubristic.


Ok, now *I'm* going to sound really hubristic, because I still think Ticknor is, on its own terms, pretty much perfect. ;-)

First, the bath scene. I don't go in so much for "what does x symbolize" -- I don't usually read that way. But as I think about it now, I when I read Ticknor I drew a connection between the bath scene and another a few pages before, when Ticknor describes his mother's death:

"When mother died, she just made up her mind and did it. She said she had nothing to live for, then reached out her hand to touch me. She missed. I was standing too far."

What tortures Ticknor is that everything he wants from life -- a wife, friends, money, reputation -- is so near, yet just beyond his reach. He asks himself again and again, how did I end up here, while what I want is over there? And how do people get over there?

I don't want to vamp too hard on this, since I think this scene works by itself as a sad sort of slapstick, but I think a reader can also take this as a physical representation of Ticknor's awkward position in society and life.

Ed is right that the bath scene is banal. "Banal" is also a term that's been accurately applied to Toussaint's heroes. But it's to neither author's discredit. Like George Ticknor's inability to act, it's part of his nature. And indecision and paralysis are not a *feature* of the novel, they are the *subject* of the novel.

As a principle of criticism, I think it's important to distinguish between objections to the subject an artist has decided to portray, and their skill or success at portraying that subject. Personally, I rule out subject as a basis for aesthetic (vs. moral) criticism. Why should any subject not be a fit basis for art?

Finally, I don't accept Derik's point at all. I'm not sure Mark was directly comparing DFW or Vollman to Ticknor, but if he was, the only possible response is to reject the comparison as misguided and far-fetched. I give no credit for good responses to ridiculous questions. It's a policy of the house, I can't change it.;-)

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I applaud your criticism!
I had to read this school for a University class and I thought I was missing some hidden wisdom or underlying meaning. I'm glad to know you found the book as mind-numbing as I did.

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