cover image What About the Baby?: Some Thoughts on the Art of Fiction

What About the Baby?: Some Thoughts on the Art of Fiction

Alice McDermott. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $27 (256p) ISBN 978-0-37413-062-6

With style and wit, novelist McDermott (The Ninth Hour) offers a master class on writing fiction, “a continual source of surprise and delight.” Generously peppered with examples by such authors as Charles Dickens, William Faulkner, Vladimir Nabokov, and Virginia Woolf, McDermott dissects what makes a story worth reading (and rereading). In “Story,” she cites Woolf’s novel Jacob’s Room and covers the magic of a strong opening paragraph and first sentence, the “Now what?” moment in the narrative’s middle, and the importance of an ending that “says something about us.” The title essay reminds writers that they must clear their “workroom of preformed ideas, especially ideas born of anger or fear.” In “All Drama Is Family Drama,” she opines about the need for exposition, which “makes drama.” McDermott is clear-eyed about her profession, recounting teachers who told her that if she can do anything else, she should, but she has “never shake[n] the addictive delight of seeing my words evoke a world.” Her love of fiction and its craft is apparent, and her advice is at once encouraging and direct: “I expect a lot of fiction—of mine and yours and everybody else’s.” Within these pages, there is room at the table for all. Agency: Gernert Company. (Aug.)