The Art of Mystery: The Search for Questions

Maud Casey. Graywolf, $14 trade paper (160p) ISBN 978-1-55597-794-8
In the 14th volume of Graywolf’s The Art Of series, novelist Casey (The Man Who Walked Away) analyzes the inscrutable and enigmatic elements in the work of James Baldwin, Shirley Jackson, Henry James, and others. Casey applies the term “mystery” broadly (and astutely), describing it as “a whispered invitation, a siren song, a flickering light in the distance.” One would not ordinarily think of Baldwin, for example, as a writer of the mysterious, but Casey’s exploration of his use of windows in “Sonny’s Blues” shows the story to be about the “deep-space mystery of interiority”—the near impossibility of truly knowing another person. Casey demonstrates the potential for a single object to be imbued with dynamic mystery through Flannery O’Connor’s story “Good Country People” and its main character’s wooden leg. Casey also delves into 19th-century Spiritualism, the use of the subliminal in photographic art, and the paintings of Andrew Wyeth. Her analysis illuminates the behind-the-scenes work authors do to cultivate a seemingly effortless air of mystery, such as O’Connor’s “training the reader’s gaze” on that leg, or Baldwin’s impressionistic descriptions. Those seeking to understand how to bring the ineffable into their own writing would do well to start here. Agent: Alice Tasman, Jean V. Naggar Literary Agency. (Jan. 2018)
Reviewed on: 09/25/2017
Release date: 01/02/2018
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