After posting last week's piece on stories, I read a NYTimes profile on George Saunders, author of experimental short fiction and a so-called "writer's writer." It's a great read and a great introduction to Saunders' literary worldview.
The profile touches on two of the themes I wrote about last week:
On realism vs. fantasy, Saunders doesn't care as long as the story impacts the reader:
The lesson he learned was the thing he sensed all those years ago in Sumatra, reading but not fully grasping Vonnegut. "I began to understand art as a kind of black box the reader enters," Saunders wrote in an essay on Vonnegut. "He enters in one state of mind and exits in another. The writer gets no points just because what's inside the box bears some linear resemblance to 'real life' — he can put whatever he wants in there. What's important is that something undeniable and nontrivial happens to the reader between entry and exit.... In fact, 'Slaughterhouse-Five' seemed to be saying that our most profound experiences may require this artistic uncoupling from the actual. The black box is meant to change us. If the change will be greater via the use of invented, absurd material, so be it." [emphasis mine]
On empathy and what it means to be human:
The main thing about [Saunder's fiction], which tends not to get its due, is how much it makes you feel. I've loved Saunders's work for years and spent a lot of hours with him over the past few months trying to understand how he's able to do what he does, but it has been a real struggle to find an accurate way to express my emotional response to his stories. One thing is that you read them and you feel known, if that makes any sense. Or, possibly even woollier, you feel as if he understands humanity in a way that no one else quite does, and you're comforted by it.
It's true — the guy has an uncanny ability to express the world from inside the minds of his characters. I'm halfway through his most recent collection, The Tenth of December, and already there have been three stories that show consciousness unfolding in strange, wonderful, and eerily accurate ways.
I'm embarrassed to admit that I'd never come across Saunders before, but I'm very glad that's been rectified (thanks Tristan).