So far their task has been simple. While a narrative might stray a bit in one telling, or embellish or neglect a detail in another, they’ve received and recorded the stories without substantial disagreement. But now, in this moment, a woman sits in front of the Grimm Brothers, telling them a story of siblinghood that offers a bit of concern.
In a recent conversation with a fellow prose writer, I articulated my frustration with writing my artist statement, one of the many documents I crafted on the job market this past fall and one I am still revising. (Is an artist statement ever done?) I told her while I know my work is interested in the relationship between artistic practice and social justice, I don’t yet know what that relationship is. She put down her glass and blinked at me as though I had asked her if paper was thin, then proceeded to tell me that while art itself might not be capable of instituting change in the world, it creates the space for change to be imaginable.
Two students of mine recently asked me how to go about writing the impossible. They each had a narrative that was at once their own and also not: one was trying to write through his experience of being present during a national tragedy and another was trying to write about her illness, which was advancing at an exponential rate. I told them each that there were two possibilities: either they were resistant to taking on the responsibilities inherent in the act of narrating and they needed to face and embrace them—even if that meant getting it wrong—or their stories were unlanguagable, in which case they would have to find a new framework for giving the narrative voice.
In his manifesto Reality Hunger, David Shields uses assemblage to curate a dialogue about the limits of The Real. The voices he appropriates and sequences implicitly argue that our increasingly urgent twenty-first century desire for reality is compromised by the fact that our storytelling mechanisms are growing further from it. As Shields notes (without acknowledging in the text proper that he is parroting E. L. Doctorow), “There’s no longer any such thing as fiction or nonfiction; there’s only narrative.”
The novella is slender but gaping. It embraces pause and pattern and gesture. It declares, “I can say more with less” and then it does. It is not an unwieldy short story but cohesive, taut, succinct. It is the novel’s architectural foundation, the stripped and fleshless core that argues the frame of a story might be enough.