Nicholas Goldberg: In defense of long, bug-crushing, Kleenex-box sized novels
In 2011, Nicholas Goldberg and I wrote an essay for the New York Times Book Review, “A Book about Life,” in which we talked about how we felt as novelists having to write short stories. Our argument was that writers should focus on the details: The things a reader can sense about a novel but can’t tell from just a few pages. That’s why our first novel, “Turtles All the Way Down,” took three years to write, and we had to get rid of one character while we were at it.
Since then, I’ve written two novels, “The Corrections” and “The Bad Son.” My experience with those books is more typical of long, bug-crushing novels. But I’ve also had some experiences that seem like short, lean books. I’ll share some of those in this week’s book review.
In “The Corrections,” I found a manuscript that went through four editors and three rewrite attempts. By the time it was ready to be submitted to a publisher, I had written most of the book with three characters: A college English teacher and a college student who attend his class, along with a student who lives at the same house as the teacher.
In the first chapter, this student begins his narrative by saying, “No one knows. There’s no reason for anyone to know.” A few chapters later, he becomes so convinced of this truth that he goes to see his father at his office and asks him to sign over a few family papers. His father refuses, saying he has no idea what he’s signing over. The student then goes to his mother and confesses about the lies. Finally, he heads to college but decides it isn’t his place.
By then, his son is going