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Burning Down the House: Essays on Fictionby Charles Baxter
Synopses & Reviews
"Lately I've been possessed of a singularly unhappy idea: The greatest influence on American fiction for the last twenty years may have been Richard Nixon."
What happens to American fiction in a time when villains are deprived of their villainy; when our consumer culture insists on happy endings? Did Richard Nixon start a trend of dysfunctional narration that is now rife throughout fiction? In Burning Down the House, Baxter delves into the social and political circumstances that influence today's "urgent issues of storytelling." Baxter invites unexpected connections: between gossip and characterization; between Puritanism, consumerism, and epiphanies; between violence and data processing. By asking readers to "explore the imagination's grip on daily life and how one lives in the pressure of that grip," Baxter offers a unique perspective into the reading and writing of contemporary fiction.
"[Baxter] employs dry wit and impassioned prose to examine some unfortunate fashions of modern fiction....[B]racing rather than incendiary, provocative rather than destructive." Publishers Weekly
"Charles Baxter has a wicked talent for epigram that rarely surfaces in his fiction but serves his collection of essays admirably....This collection is not a rigorous work of literary criticism, but it is a pleasure to read, and it performs an important function..." Emily Barton, The New York Times Book Review
"The most pleasurable and instructive book on the craft since John Gardner's The Art of Fiction." City Pages
"In nine brilliant essays, Baxter displays his characteristic wit and intelligence as he muses about the influences of culture and politics on the art of storytelling." Ploughshares
"What elevates this collection from the status of technical manual (which it also is, and a brilliant one at that) is Mr. Baxter's rare ability to gauge the capacities of fiction for conveying an image not only of individual existence, but of the characteristic feel of a time, a culture, a way of life." The Washington Times
"Readers are rewarded with great one-liners, thoughtful ruminations on the state of literature, and plenty of brush fires that continue burning long after the book is closed." The San Francisco Bay Guardian
In this book, Baxter offers several sharp, articulate, and provocative essays that examine the many forces currently shaping contemporary American fiction. As noted in The Washington Times: "What elevates this collection from the status of technical manual (which it also is, and a brilliant one at that) is Mr. Baxter's rare ability to gauge the capacities of fiction for conveying an image not only of individual existence, but of the characteristic feel of a time, a culture, a way of life."
About the Author
Charles Baxter is also the author of First Light, Shadow Play, Harmony of the World, Through the Safety Net, A Relative Stranger, Believers, and Imaginary Paintings and was recently honored with an Academy Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters.
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