Tag Archives: Great House

Getting personal with Nicole Krauss

19 Oct

Ever have one of those moments when you don’t bother to write a down quote because you’re positive its salience will make it impossible to forget, only to find that a few hours later that it’s escaped your memory?

I wish I had whipped out my moleskine in time (yes, I admit it, my moleskine. I’m one of them.) to catch Nicole Krauss‘ spunky line on the use of autobiography in fiction during her lovely reading hosted by the Harvard Book Store at the Brattle Theatre in Harvard Square this evening.

Left only with the power of paraphrase, I’ll say it went something like this: “The thought of autobiographical fiction sends a chill up my spine” or “The thought of writing autobiographically makes my blood boil.”

You get the idea. Krauss, who delivered a reading from her latest novel and National Book Award nominee Great House, is not a fan of autobiographical fiction nor the ever-so-present non-fiction account masquerading as fiction, nor, as she stated in an interview with BlackBook yesterday, the enormously popular memoir.

She commented that she finds writing directly about one’s own experiences in fiction constricting, precisely the opposite of the liberating feeling that comes with the creation and development of unexplored characters and situations. Though I myself admittedly lapse into the murky realms of quasi autobiographical fiction at times, I would have to say that based on those precious moments when I transcend those lapses, I personally couldn’t agree more with Krauss. The ability to escape one’s self and enter the universes of others whom you’ve created can be one of the most rewarding aspects of writing creatively.

But Krauss made an important distinction that anyone who struggles with escaping the autobiographical should keep in mind. A difference exists, she noted, between “the autobiographical” and “the personal.” Escaping the former doesn’t and shouldn’t mean throwing out the latter along with it. According to Krauss, the personal should absolutely be employed in fiction — it’s the personal, she believes, that gives fiction its heart and soul.

Of course, “the personal” is something far harder than direct autobiography to extract from one’s existence and weave into one’s writing effectively. Separating the deeper emotional undercurrent of, say, a falling out with a close friend, or repurposing one’s feelings of loss after a career relocation for, let’s say, a novel about nineteenth century immigration, takes a talent few have.

Krauss’ distinction is an important one that is almost always at work in well-crafted literary fiction, but that few ever call out or make note of explicitly. Krauss is not only a magnificent writer, but she has a tremendous level of self-awareness when it comes to her own writing process and can discuss it with panache.

And did you know she read the first 600 pages of the Odyssey to her four- and one-year-old sons last summer, only stopping when her older son began having nightmares? Now there are some future writers in the making. But with both Krauss and Foer running through your veins, what else you could ever be?