Firing Jim Crace

Jim Crace

Jim Crace

A sad thing happened this evening: I let Jim Crace go. I read Being Dead last year, and was disappointed, but because I kept hearing such good things about him, I decided last week to give him another chance. That second chance just ended with the completion of The Pesthouse–an even more (thoroughly?) disappointing read. Paragraph after paragraph of dull internal monologue just crying out to be skillfully summarized with a resonant gesture or symbolic set piece. It’s not like he can’t write. He just can’t move me.

I don’t like to make absolute statements about what I will and will not read, but it’s going to take something extraordinary for me to pick up another Crace book–seriously, how many books would be sufficient? Two seems somehow aggressive, but three and I’d feel like a fool. Besides, there are too many other promising authors I haven’t read.

Jim Crace: you’re fired.

26 thoughts on “Firing Jim Crace

  1. Shya, I think this should be a regular column for you. You could writers you hired as well.

    I’m sorry to say, I guess I risk excommunication, that Bolano is on the top of my list for firing. Not that he isn’t good, of course. But that he is this Messiah of literature, I don’t know.

    Others include TC Boyle, Ian Mcewan

    • Maybe you’re right, Greg. Hopefully I’ll be hiring more writers than I fire, but either way, I’ll broadcast the proceedings…

      As for Bolano, I must say I’ve postponed picking him up. I want to wait out the period of hype, because if there’s one thing that will destroy my experience of a new author, it’s the fact of everyone telling me she/he will blow my mind.

  2. Never read him, so maybe you saved me some time here?

    I officially fire Joyce Carol Oates!!

    Thank you for giving me this space. Everyone add an author to fire.

  3. Ditto on Oates.

    TC Boyle just joined fictionaut. His story has been viewed 300 times in less than 24 hours.

    Now lit journals? How about West Branch. I’ve never seen it for sale, I can’t name anyone that has been in it. It just looms as an impossibility.

      • It could be a journal in which stories aren’t actually published, just the number of times they were viewed on Fictionaut.

        But I still like Jim Crace — Being Dead and his other books, too.

        • Help me understand! I like turgid prose as much as the next guy. But his seems “poetic” in all the worst ways, relying on apparently ripe but ultimately flat description (meaning, it’s colorful, but doesn’t seem to add any depth or new information). I like his premises quite a bit, but reading his work gradually saps my enthusiasm. I know, I know. It’s just a matter of taste.

          • I read an interview with Crace in which he described himself as a nature writer who happens to write fiction. That’s what I like best about it: the decentering of people and their experience as its focus. In Being Dead that means giving crabs, flies, beach grass, etc. thick, independent attention, while Arcadia describes the architecture and produce piles of a city market more fully than most characters. That density of description, and the fact that much of it appears tangential, seems to be what people object to. But personally I’m far more interested in landscapes and environmental processes defining a story or character than psychology or personal history, so Crace is a dream come true.

            That’s my 2¢, for what it’s worth.

            • That’s certainly a revealing paraphrase. Well those decomposition passages were my favorite in Being Dead, for sure. And, true enough, the passages in Pesthouse I found more problematic were those in which he described motivation and internal dialog–unfortunately, it was a significant percentage of the text. Maybe he should just bite the bullet and lose characters altogether. I think I’ve finally hit on what would make me pick up another Crace book: if he went straight up naturalist. Maybe he’s caught in this idea that his writing has to conform to a novelistic shape. Break free, Jim! Break free!

              • That would be interesting. It’s fair to say I don’t read Crace for the people, but for the physical and intellectual worlds they inhabit.

  4. I feel this way about Claire Messud. But I only got through 2/3 of a short story and about 6 pages of a novel.

    I didn’t like Being Dead that much either.

  5. I enjoyed being a true crime writing aping Jim Crace’s book “Being Dead” in Opium 9. Nature writer! He is a writer of still lifes. I guess saying that, there may be something radical in that if it were taken it’s logical extreme, say Tender Button-style. Rotting meat on a beach is, well, rotting meat on a beach. There isn’t a whole lot of plot that goes into that…

    • Hey Matt,

      I have a story in Opium 9 too. I enjoyed yours, especially where Simon struggles to reconcile his “love for the body parts of human beings” and “not the being parts of humans.”

      Have you read Eugene Marten’s excellent novella, Waste? Your story shares some affinities with it.

    • I don’t think the corpses in Being Dead are still or static at all, and the quietly problematic lives those characters led become more meaningful as their connections to the world (through crabs, maggots, flies, grass, etc.) become increasingly far-reaching and complex, both across time and space. So for me, it’s the opposite of a still life, and the opposite of fiction in which even when things happen nothing actually happens, like a domestic drama in which nothing matters beyond the walls of the house.

      I haven’t seen your Opium story yet, Matt. I’ll have to get ahold of it.

  6. Steve, I can see why the book is well liked. I don’t share your admiration of the larger connection created in the book. They felt constructed or wishful and this was at odds with a book written in a naturalistic style. I guess writing this now I can see how that might be an interesting challenging; at the time I read it, and again when I reread parts of it while working on my story, it felt like a kind of gimmick, a way of side-stepping what might be seen as the obligations of naturalism — that is — naturalism I think depends on the figures of characters. Characters themselves are known through action represented in words. This seems kind of pedantic talking about it this way — but Being Dead essentially attempts to create a kind of characterless naturalism. Again writing this down, it seems like a kind of great challenge. But does it work? I wasn’t engaged by the mechanism. Maybe if he was more of a stylist — if language jumped out of the narrative? I think at one point in reading the book I wondered what it would be like if Nicholson Baker was writing the story and how enjoyable, gross, and specific the book would be? But this would be placing a character, if only the author as a figure, into the narrative. But then I think the novel is a very anthropocentric form, as opposed to lawns, birdhouses, or clam beds. Humans write and read novels. Crabs scavenge and do unknowable crab stuff, I think. At least that might be why I reacted to the book the way I did or do to Being Dead.

    I think Shya is less married to the idea of characters than I am, but I found James Wood’s explanation about character in How Fiction Works kind of deliberately sloppy, vague, and helpful. Wood is not very enthusiastic about William Gass’s reduction of character to a kind of verbal energy: words on a page. When I first read Gass’ book Fiction and Figures of Life this emphasis on words over everything else it was really helpful. I’d been in a lot of creative writing classes and in workshops we hardly ever talked about words on a page but instead did a kind of talk show analysis of motivations and character. So getting around THAT was great. But finally I began to miss the idea of people making choices and, you know, acting. I like characters in words, and I like it that they are technically difficult to pin down in terms of how they operate. We kind of know a vivid character when we read one, but then they tend to kind of vanish when we actually stare at the words.

    John, I read your story and liked it a lot. I liked the stream of consciousness that didn’t seem like the stream of consciousness in Joyce, Woolf, Faulkner, or Malcolm Lowry — how the story jumped from something very physical like … “icy air made my eyes drip and my throat taste like metal.” Here’s my nose: a bus’s pneumatic hiss.”

    • On the contrary, I love characters. Real, fleshy ones I can believe in. I just prefer their internal lives to be either highly interesting or unavailable, so I can make them interesting myself.

      I love the idea of Nicholson Baker writing Being Dead.

  7. re: Waste … nope. But I will. I’ve added it my ever-expanding list of books to read before I am crushed to death by the pile of books I haven’t read. Thanks for recommending it.

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