Letting Some Air In

Posted by Niall Harrison

In The Guardian, Patrick Ness considers the new omnibus of Steven Millhauser stories, We Others:

There's a doctorate to be written on a certain type of American literary paragraph. Densely packed with hyper-close observation, often containing unindented dialogue, and consuming vast acreage down the page, they seem to be evolving into a tic meant to indicate seriousness. You particularly find them in the work of American men: David Foster Wallace, Jonathan Franzen, Rick Moody. The last work of fiction I reviewed for these pages, Colson Whitehead's Zone One, was constructed of almost nothing but. This isn't necessarily a complaint – in the right hands, they can be just as thrilling as any other prose – but the danger is that, done badly, they'll suffocate the life out of both you and the story you're reading.

Pulitzer prize-winner Steven Millhauser's We Others contains stories both new and from collections spanning the last 30 years, and he, too, likes his mammoth, intensely wrought paragraphs. Does he get away with it? Sometimes, and when he does, the results can be beguiling.

Ness links to a tale of "the most disappointing alien invasion possible", "The Invasion From Outer Space" as one of the collection's hits.


           

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