cover image The Story Begins: Essays on Literature

The Story Begins: Essays on Literature

Amos Oz. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH), $26 (128pp) ISBN 978-0-15-100297-9

Examining the trouble the blank page presents to a writer--""beginning to tell a story is like making a pass at a stranger in a restaurant""--Israeli novelist Oz (Panther in the Basement, etc.) considers the methods authors use to draw readers into the ""opening contracts"" of a narrative. One oddity of this thin collection of essays, derived from talks at high schools and colleges, is that Oz has read each text in a Hebrew translation (except for a few Israeli writers who wrote in Hebrew to begin with), whether by Chekhov or Gogol, Theodor Fontane or Marquez, which presumably affects at least nuances, especially given that Oz focuses on such small portions of the texts. Oz's interest in discovering what the reader must accept to become entrapped in the tale is especially illuminating of Chekhov's ""Rothschild's Fiddle"" and Elsa Morante's History: A Novel. In other analyses--for instance, a Raymond Carver story or a Franz Kafka fantasy--extensive quotations only pad elaborations of the obvious. This short, if feisty and often amusing, book is ultimately sketchy, suggesting a longer study abandoned early in the going. It certainly would have been more fruitful if Oz had spent as much time contemplating middles and endings as he does fretting about beginnings. (Mar.)