17 September 2010

Beauty in Every Sentence?

Gary Shteyngart / photo: Mark Coggins
In an article in a recent issue of Paste, author Gary Shteyngart discusses his new novel, Super Sad True Love Story, with Mark Krotov, the article’s author, over a meal at a Korean restaurant. Krotov describes Super Sad True Love Story as “a boisterous, romantic, unabashedly political, altogether wonderful vision of a dark, stupid American future.” And he asks: “What was it that had led him to write a book this messy, this bold and loud?” Shteyngart responds:

“We’re having a Korean meal,” he said between mouthfuls of meat wrapped in lettuce leaves. “I enjoy the protectionism of certain Japanese foods—they’re small, they’re done with a lot of thought behind them. But often, I want to eat a lot of meat and I want myself to be on fire. That’s what I want to do. Sure, it’s sloppier than certain cuisines. Or classical French versus southern Italian, for example. You know where my sympathies lie. They lie with southern Italian, Korean—that’s the kind of person I am. I don’t give a crap if every sentence isn’t beautiful.”

There’s something liberating about this idea. It can free one up to write boldly, to take risks. Those are the ways we grow as writers and the way literature remains vital. Still, for some writers, it could be dangerous. Not all writers can write “messy” and still entertain, say something compelling, be coherent. And what does this do to the artistry of the craft? Does it skew it too much in favor of plot and detail, away from the power of language? I’ve not yet read this novel, so I'm not making any statements about Shteyngart’s choices. I’m thinking of this more as an approach to the craft and I’m still chewing on it. What do you think? Do you give a crap if every sentence is beautiful?


Hoosier said...

Your question reminds me of the ongoing debates about whether highly abstract -- sometimes angry -- art is truly art. There's room in literature for experiments with writing that does not follow traditional "rules."

Letterpress said...

Good point! And I--for one--am grateful for that room to experiment. Think of the books we wouldn't have on the shelves without it.