Fans of Zadie Smith, Dave Eggers, David Foster Wallace, Jennifer Egan, and J.D. Salinger would enjoy this podcast. This podcast is a live recording of the Austin Writing Workshop held on August 15, 2014. In it, the group explores the issue of themes in literary fiction, using two different stories. One of the stories is by a famous, published writer (Zadie Smith) and the other is by a member of the workshop. One of the stories makes the theme more obvious, and the other buries theme in subtlety. Which works best and why? To make a philosophical theme relevant and worthy of discussion, must it be subtle to the point of mysteriousness?
For these questions and more, please lay your ears on #68! (Click play on the Flash-required audio player above.)
More details about the topics covered are listed below with approximate timestamps. Enjoy!
0:00 Excerpt from “Big Week” by Zadie Smith
1:39 Frank’s introduction to the podcast
2:41 Group analysis of “Big Week” by Zadie Smith, including comparison to Tao Lin, biography of Zadie Smith, the shady CIA-funded history of The Paris Review magazine, Team Freedom, George Plimpton, Peter Matthiessen, CIA spies, decaff coffee being served to the group, the theme of architecture, plot summary, how neighborhoods shape your destiny and life, reversal of cliches, the main character as a pathetic loose-talker, the failure of institutional structures in society, shifting of perspectives, simply liking the story, writer emphasis, Tom Cruise jumping on a couch and that level of enthusiasm, breaking of group rules regarding reading stories at least twice, caring about story events and characters, the subtlety of Richard Ford and Raymond Carver, “Spring in Fialta” by Vladimir Nabakov as the best story of all time, inability to follow plot, details reflecting on theme, absurdity of character, the absurdity of character behavior, story readability, the problems involved with the author head-hopping so much in 3rd-person narratives, mythological storytelling, comparison to an AWW member’s story, confusing narrative techniques, overdoing thematic elements, socioeconomic focus of the story and the ability of the writer to accurately capture different social classes and neighborhoods (authenticity), difficulty of creating intimacy, comparison to “Where I’m Calling From” by Raymond Carver, parallel between houses falling down and the life of the main character falling down, embellishment of accomplishments, overlooking problems in the beginning of stories, comparison to “For Esme–with Love and Squalor” by J.D. Salinger, buying into a story immediately.
39:50 Group analysis of an AWW member story, including the member’s publishing credentials, comparison to the Zadie Smith story, trying to connect the thematic dots, narrative flow, cleverness of the story, reader subjectivity and how that impacts the reading of the story, astrophysics, star-gazing, 1st person-narrative cheating, emotional and intimate content of the story, lack of action as a narrative technique, “slice of life” stories, simplicity of the narrative style, intense debate over the story’s ending, the dialectic of the story and the lack thereof, theme as mystery, theme transcending technique or trickery, subtlety of theme, “Spring in Fialta,” William Shakespeare, philosophical themes versus didactic themes, references used in lieu of theme, tricks and puzzles, exploring relevant philosophical ideas, Carver and Ford and Ernest Hemingway with regard to dry realism, the function of art, story length, reality of the town of Arco.
1:09:00 Group analysis of the movie “Limitless.”
1:13:47 End of Podcast
Read “Big Week” by Zadie Smith in The Paris Review here.