On Difficulty by Michael Williams
Sometimes—not always, but sometimes—people object to Vine because of its “difficulty”. They claim obscure or abstruse words, long sentences, fragmented episodes. These are things that get in the way of the story, they claim. Things that disrupt the pleasure of reading.
Let me make my case.
Suppose you were at a diving event. Which would you rather see: a lithe young Australian doing a back one-and-a-half off a high board, or a dumpy, fifty-something Irishman such as myself attempt a cannonball from poolside? Not for the comedy, mind you. For the sheer athletic and aesthetic pleasure of a dive.
It’s what they call degree of difficulty. We are impressed by things exceptional, things that ordinary folks don’t or can’t do.
It’s why literature is more than writing, though we tend to forget it because of the very nature of the literary medium. Neither you nor I would expect to be playing a trumpet well enough to record if we first picked it up a month ago. But writing is regarded as different, because we all use language. Everyone can communicate with sentences, but to really write is to delight in the ways of communication, to juggle and manipulate them.
The story itself is part, not all, of fiction, I think. If it were simply story, if it were the writer’s job to get out of the way, there would be very little difference between how fiction and journalism are done. But with fiction it seems there is more emphasis on the way the story is told—on language or rhetoric. In fact, fiction that employs transparent prose and linear, causal narrative is really basically a holdover from the mid to late 19th century—writers like George Eliot, Gustave Flaubert, Stephen Crane. Writing before and after that relatively brief window of time is often writing that calls attention to itself, that is ruffle and rhetoric, back-pedaling and leaping perilously from one circumstance to the next. Look at Tristram Shandy or The Pickwick Papers or Frankenstein on one side of that window, Lovecraft or Joyce or Garcia Marquez on the other. These are fictions that delight as much in how the story is told as in what is told.
So I will play with ways of telling. I will offer my readers a chance to work with the story I tell, to help me make that story by their involved and intelligent work with the words I give them. I hope that doing some work has its rewards, that the reader emerges, deepened and exercised, from something of mine that they've read. If they don’t, they don’t. If they choose not to undertake my offer, I understand: I respect that they want something else from the reading experience, and the two of us wave and walk our separate literary paths.
But it itself, difficulty is not a bad thing, I maintain. It is a choice, a tactic to reveal and challenge, not a posture or design to intimidate. Indeed, I think that difficult fiction can respect the reader more; in asking you to shoulder more of the burden than to sit back and be entertained, it is asking you to undertake something that can be a different, and sometimes a better adventure.
About the author:
Michael Williams was born in Louisville, Kentucky. Much of his childhood was spent in the south central part of the state, amid red dirt, tobacco farms, and murky legends of Confederate guerillas. He has spent a dozen years in various parts of the world, Vermont, New York, New Jersey, Wisconsin, with stopovers in Ireland and England, and emerged from the experience surprisingly unscathed.
Upon returning to the Ohio River Valley, he has published a series of novels of increasing oddness,combinations of what he characterizes as “gothic/historical fiction/fantasy/sf/redneck magical realism” beginning with Weasel’s Luck (1988) and Galen Beknighted (1990), the critically acclaimed Arcady (1996) and Allamanda (1997), and, most recently, Trajan’s Arch (2010). His new novel Vine will be released this summer.
He lives in Corydon, Indiana with his wife, Rhonda, and a clowder of cats.
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About the book:
Vine: An Urban Legend by Michael Williams
ISBN: 9781613181256 (paperback)
ASIN: B008G5WHHA (Kindle ebook)
Publication Date: March 28, 2012
Amateur theatre director Stephen Thorne plots a sensational production of a Greek tragedy in order to ruffle feathers in the small city where he lives. Accompanied by an eccentric and fly-by-night cast and crew, he prepares for opening night, unaware that as he unleashes the play, he has drawn the attention of ancient and powerful forces.
Michael Williams’ Vine weds Greek Tragedy and urban legend with dangerous intoxication, as the drama rushes to its dark and inevitable conclusion.
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Also available at: Alibris