Posted 10 days ago
The increasing inability of many readers to construe fiction as anything other than roman à clef, or the raw material of biography, is both indulged and encouraged.
The New Yorker amazes me constantly with the fantastic work it publishes. This essay, by Joan Didion, is certainly one of the greatest they have published.
Curiously, though, it takes into question the publishing of work posthumously, especially that of Hemingway, which it actually did in 2020 with his short story, Pursuit as Happiness. I wonder what Didion would think of that.
I think she would have disagreed with it, as she writes:
This is a denial of the idea of fiction, just as the publication of unfinished work is a denial of the idea that the role of the writer in his or her work is to make it. Those excerpts from “True at First Light” already published can be read only as something not yet made, notes, scenes in the process of being set down, words set down but not yet written. There are arresting glimpses here and there, fragments shored against what the writer must have seen as his ruin, and a sympathetic reader might well believe it possible that had the writer lived (which is to say had the writer found the will and energy and memory and concentration) he might have shaped the material, written it into being, made it work as the story the glimpses suggest, that of a man returning to a place he loved and finding himself at three in the morning confronting the knowledge that he is no longer the person who loved it and will never now be the person he had meant to be.
I understand this, and agree with her 100%, but I also really enjoy reading Hemingway's posthumous work. I don't analyze it as if it's his best piece, or even as if it is a finished work like the guy at Didion's dinner party, but I do think it gives us an insight into the writer's mind. That can help aspiring writer's, like myself, to think that through my garbled thoughts, maybe something decent can come out of it as well.
Regardless, this essay was fantastic and beautifully written, unsurprisingly as it's from Didion. I received and email from the nnewsletter with hand-selected articles from the archive, and this was one I couldn't pass up. Thankfully I didn't.