Monday, September 28, 2015

Reads for Writers: Great House by Nicole Krauss Provides a Masterclass

From Kate’s Writing Crate…

As a reader, I always love finding books that appeal to me. As a writer, I am twice as pleased when the authors also provide masterclasses within their books.

          Masterclasses take place when performance artists and musicians work one-on-one with students. Writers don’t generally have this option, but I have found some books to be masterclasses for characters, backstories, plots, settings, voice, and/or creativity.

          Without a straightforward plot, Great House by Nicole Krauss is not for everyone, but I think it is a good read for writers. At the heart of the novel are several writers and a desk that is important to them as it passes in and out of their lives.  

 I recommend this book more for the insightful writing than anything else. With an unwavering voice, Krauss addresses some of life’s big issues and questions.

…a writer should not be cramped by the possible consequences of her work. She has no duty to earthly accuracy or verisimilitude. She is not an accountant; nor is she required to be something as ridiculous and misguided as a moral compass. In her work the writer is free of laws. But in her life…she is not free. (page 28)

…Do you think books can change people’s lives? (which really meant, Do you actually think anything you write could mean anything to anyone?)…I asked the interviewer to imagine the sort of person he might be if all of the literature he’d read in his life were somehow excised from his mind and soul, and as the journalist contemplated that nuclear winter, I sat back with a self-satisfied smile, saved again from facing the truth…[I had been] countering the appearance of a certain anemia in life with the excuse of another, more profound level of existence in my work…(page 36)

Terrible things befall people, but not all are destroyed. Why is it that the same thing that destroys one does not destroy another? There is the question of will—some inalienable right, the right of interpretation, remains. (page 190)

…The dead take their secrets with them, or so they say. But it isn’t really true, is it? The secrets of the dead have a viral quality, and find a way to keep themselves alive in another host… (page 259)

             When it comes to writers, relationships can be tricky as solitude is a requirement for work.

…I might have stayed up half the night working, writing and staring out at the blackness of the Hudson, as long as the energy and clarity lasted. There was no one to call me to bed, no one to demand that the rhythms of my life operate in a duet, no one toward whom I had to bend. (page 17)

The life I had chosen, a life largely absent of others, certainly emptied of the ties that keep most people tangled up in each other, only made sense when I was actually writing the sort of work I had sequestered myself in order to produce…preferring the deliberate meaningfulness of fiction to unaccounted-for reality, preferring a shapeless freedom to the robust work of yoking my thoughts to the logic and flow of another’s. (page 43)

…I avoided the attic [wife’s study]…out of respect for her privacy, without which she wouldn’t have survived. She needed a place to escape, even from me [her husband]. (page 87)

As for the  writing desk, the description depends on the characters' perspective.

I looked across the room at the wooden desk at which I had written seven novels…One drawer was slightly ajar, one of the nineteen drawers, some small and some large, whose odd number and strange array…has come to signify a kind of guiding if mysterious order in my life, an order that, when my work was going well, took on an almost mystical quality…Nineteen drawers…hid a far more complex design, the blueprint of the mind formed over tens of thousands of days of thinking while staring at them, as if they held the conclusion to a stubborn sentence, the culminating phrase, the radical break from everything I had ever written that would at last lead to the book I had always wanted, and always failed, to write. (page 16)

To call it a desk is to say too little. The word conjures some homely, unassuming article of work or domesticity, a selfless and practical object that is always poised to offer up its back for its owner to make use of, and which, when not in use, occupies its allotted space with humility…you can cancel that image immediately. This desk was something else entirely: an enormous, foreboding thing that bore down on the occupants of the room it inhabited, pretending to be inanimate but, like the Venus flytrap, ready to pounce on them and digest them via one of its many little terrible drawers. [a description of the same desk by non-writing character] (page 248)    

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