In college I attended a lecture where the late great Kurt Vonnegut spoke to a humid room full of of English and Creative Writing majors. He ruminated on quite a few things, jumping from tangent to tangent as if he was merely thinking aloud instead of speaking to an auditorium full of wide eyed, enthusiastic wannabe writers and critics. Sure, I would have preferred to hear him wax on the future of rhetoric, the changing role of fiction in contemporary America, but I was in the same room as Kurt Vonnegut, so I really couldn’t ask more from my experience. One thing that stuck with me was when Sir Vonnegut asked the eager minds of the room what a story looks like. Any story. What does a work of fiction, be it Huckleberry Finn or Finnegan’s Wake, look like? We all waited with bated breath, be it bright eyed freshman or snarky associate professors, no one rose to the challenge to make a guess. Vonnegut very simply drew what appeared to be a line graph of a stock quote. A line, from left to right, with a series of rises and dips. He went on to explain how this is a story. A story consists of a beginning and then a conflict occurs/something bad happens, thus a ‘dip’ and then a resolution is presented, a fix, causing a ‘rise’. A story could have one or many, they can occur in different orders, but essentially this is what a story looks like. If great fiction, fiction that packs that highly sought emotional oomph, were to be represented in this way, I would propose those peaks and valleys are much higher and lower than mediocre fiction. And if I could continue to make the case for such great fiction, I would propose to call this much higher quality fiction Ecstatic Fiction. Fiction where the lows tighten your throat and make your eyes misty and the highs often have the same effect.
Below are some of my favorite and/or recent experiences with Ecstatic Fiction:
1. We, The Drowned by Carsten Jensen- I’ve written about this one before and the fact I bring this novel up again speaks volumes. The end had one of the best payoffs of recent memory.
2. The Crossing by Cormac McCarthy- This entire novel rollicks from beginning to end with intense emotional generosity. McCarthy seizes your heart from the get-go.
3. Our Burden’s Light by Patrick Thomas Casey- Casey’s debut is superbly crafted, written with precise measure of pathos and ethos. He tugs on your heartstrings from the opening chapter.
4. The Boy Detective Fails by Joe Meno-Again, nothing new for me to write about this one, but its charged emotional resonance stays with readers long after the last page is read.