Saturday, March 18, 2006

Problems and Other Stories by John Updike

These aren’t stories. They’re sketches. I had to read half a dozen of them or so before I figured that out. At first, I was upset. Who does this Updike think he is, passing his sketches off as stories? Making us look in futility for the plot, the point, the moral. But then I realized that this was the kind of writing I should do more of. Sure, Updike is a famous author so he can publish his writing exercises, call them stories, and keep that income and those accolades rolling in. But just because I can’t get away with that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t exercise my craft this way. And these are pretty good sketches. They all (or most) seem to be about marriages breaking up or infidelity, but they’re all tight and exist well within themselves. They don’t seem to be about much and nothing seems to happen in them, except that the characters think, act and interact based on a premise. Nothing has to happen, so the author has a certain amount of freedom to start or end anywhere. My current project is the exact opposite. At times it seems like so much has to happen that it’ll never get done. Perhaps I should break away from time to time and just write a little sketch about A and B in situation C. Would I be able to? Or will I helplessly want to make it say something more?

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