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How James Wood’s ‘How Fiction Works’ Works


Great Excitations
Much has been made, over in Wood’s native U.K., about the excitability on display in How Fiction Works. For him, the exclamation point is no enemy.

“What a piece of writing this is!”
On an excerpt from Henry James’s What Maisie Knew.

“What an amazing opening!”
On Chekhov ’s “Rothschild’s Fiddle.”

“The protagonist seems to be noticing so much, recording everything!”
On Stephen Crane’s description of a dead man with ants on his face.

“Ah, the others are mine but that last example is from Tolstoy!”
On Tolstoy’s description of a baby’s fat arms.

“How precise, paradoxically, is that ‘vague’!”
On Henry James again.

“And how well he does it!”
On Saul Bellow’s description of riding in an airplane.

How Fiction Works
By James Wood.
Farrar, Straus & Giroux. $24.


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