Normally as I read a book, I’m thinking about how it works. I ask myself what the sentences are doing, what’s happening with the characters, how is the storyteller drawing me into the story and what are they trying to convey.
I think it’s asking these questions that prevents me being fully immersed in a story. Whether watching television or reading, all too often being told a story feels like work.
Jennifer Egan’s Manhattan Beach has been the rare exception. While I’m only about two-thirds of the way through it, it’s swept me off my feel. The prose feels effortless and the story unfolds like a remembered dream. I’m captivated with every page.
In the midst of dealing with some personal and creative crises, Egan’s advice on unlocking the unconscious has been a tremendous comfort.
(I also highly recommend this phenomenal interview about her process, fiction’s utility in generating empathy, and violence as a key piece of the American psyche.)
I have a hard time letting things go. I don’t enjoy not having control and it’s shown in my work the last few years. I’ve crushed most of my writing under the weight of technique and accidentally drained my stories of the spark that gives Egan’s work such life.
Perhaps this is why Egan’s advice about the unconscious rings so true. Her process is all about leaning into the not knowing for the sake of allowing yourself to discover. And while I’m incredibly bad at allowing myself not to know, I recognize this process of discovery that makes writing worthwhile in the first place.