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Shaping The Infinite, Or How Not to Die of Routine

Hilary Mantel, when she writes fiction, prefers to grab on a fact. A handhold, if you will. “I aim to make fiction flexible enough so that it bends itself around the facts as we have them,” she said in her Paris Review interview last week. If someone were to claim that the pursuit of the factual runs counter to the aims of fiction, she’d reply that most of human history remains unknown to us, anyway – we have only fragments of Sappho and stumps of buildings and broken statues and fields and fields of unmarked graves all over the world. So if you are lucky enough to build a human universe around any kind of factual handhold, why wouldn’t you use all you could get? To extend the climbing metaphor: just because you can, improbably, hoist yourself along a sheer cliff face doesn’t make the risk of falling any less, or the vista behind you any less stunning.

I Was a Flower of the Mountain

* Gina Balibrera *

She seemed to have read everything, and thus I imagined that she lived, as Joyce wrote, near to the wild heart of life, in Ireland attending Joyce conferences in her fabulous boots, dipping down to Southern Spain to write in the sun with a bottle of wine and cavort with beautiful intellectuals, writing dazzling papers on international flights, and having her hair deep conditioned and brushed in the meantime. Hers was the life that would be mine in the next decade. In my thirties, I thought to myself, I will have read everything and I will have a chestnut mane. During one of her lectures I made an idle note to read every volume of In Search of Lost Time over the summer.

Shelter

* A.L. Major *

The weather in Michigan this winter is stubbornly cold. March has arrived, but spring seems distant. Used to be on days of obstinate gray, I would curl up on my sofa and read a great novel, but lately I can only read a few pages before the author’s beautiful prose charges my insecurities about my own writing. Instead of relaxing I’m analyzing every sentence, thinking again of that scene I need to fix, and then I’m worrying that I’ll never finish and I will be a failure. So instead after I’ve finished writing for the day, I wrap myself in a fleece blanket, and I watch a movie, often a romantic comedy.