Novelist and writing teacher Jane Alison illuminates the many shapes other than the usual wavelike “narrative arc” that can move fiction forward. The stories she loves most follow other organic patterns found in nature―spirals, meanders, and explosions, among others. Alison’s manifesto for new modes of narrative will appeal to serious readers and writers alike.
As Jane Alison writes in the introduction to her insightful and appealing book about the craft of writing: “For centuries there’s been one path through fiction we’re most likely to travel―one we’re actually told to follow―and that’s the dramatic arc: a situation arises, grows tense, reaches a peak, subsides. . . . But: something that swells and tautens until climax, then collapses? Bit masculo-sexual, no? So many other patterns run through nature, tracing other deep motions in life. Why not draw on them, too?”
W. G. Sebald’s The Emigrants was the first novel to show Alison how forward momentum can be created by way of pattern, rather than the traditional arc―or, in nature, wave. Other writers of nonlinear prose considered in her “museum of specimens” include Nicholson Baker, Anne Carson, Marguerite Duras, Jamaica Kincaid, Clarice Lispector, Gabriel García Márquez, Susan Minot, David Mitchell, Caryl Phillips, and Mary Robison.
Meander, Spiral, Explode is a singular and brilliant elucidation of literary strategies that also brings high spirits and wit to its original conclusions. It is a liberating manifesto that says, Let’s leave the outdated modes behind and, in thinking of new modes, bring feeling back to experimentation. It will appeal to serious readers and writers alike.
Jane Alison grew up in the Australian and U.S. foreign services. She earned a B.A. in classics from Princeton University. Before writing fiction, she worked as an administrator for the National Endowment for the Humanities, as a production artist for the Washington City Paper, as an editor for the Miami New Times, and as a proposal and speechwriter for Tulane University. She also worked as a freelance editor and illustrator before attending Columbia University to study creative writing.
Her first novel, "The Love-Artist," has been translated into seven languages. It was followed by "The Marriage of the Sea," a New York Times Notable Book. Her novel, "Natives and Exotics," was a recommended reading by Alan Cheuse of National Public Radio. Her short fiction and critical writing have recently appeared in Seed; Five Points; Postscript: Essays on Film and the Humanities; and The Germanic Review. She has also written several biographies for children and co-edited with Harold Bloom a critical series on women writers. She has taught writing and literature at Columbia, Barnard, Bryn Mawr, and for writers groups in Geneva, Switzerland.
She is currently Professor and Director of Creative Writing at the University of Virginia, and lives in Charlottesville, VA