Hotels by nature are spaces of temporary, transitory, and hard-to-classify encounters. Setting a story in a hotel frees characters to have discussions they might otherwise not have, to do things they might otherwise refrain from doing.
Munro raises questions about the relationship between two things that often coincide in writers: the first is a certain amount of self-indulgence and self-mythologizing; the second is the difficult work of putting aside the ego and observing the world.
Natalia Ginzburg’s 1963 novel is a record of a lost world and a lost way of life. Its insistently domestic narrative style, in its humanizing particularity, is also an act of resistance against the ascendant totalitarian ideologies looming over its characters’ lives.
Virginia Woolf and Cynthia Ozick both feature protagonists who flaunt societal gender-based expectations like marriage and children in their mock-biographies.
Olivia Laing, in her new novel, writes of a feeling that resonates: “She felt blank. She felt blank and mildly hysterical, she was itching to do something but it wasn’t clear what.”
In her essay “Place in Fiction,” originally delivered as a lecture at Duke in 1955, Eudora Welty almost immediately positions place as an antidote to broad generalizations about human experience.
Mavis Gallant’s “Mlle. Dias de Corta” unfolds more like a novel than a short story. It’s a second-person address to a tenant the narrator, an aging, xenophobic French widow, had twenty years before—a young actress, Alda Dias de Corta, whom the widow took in “for companionship rather than income.”
Saul Bellow’s novel is often characterized as a rich portrait of a mind in crisis. It’s also an exploration of the role of history—and memory—in personal life.
The view camera creates a particular kind of image through extreme pause and meticulous composition; by writing about a view camera, McPhee creates a particular kind of essay, one that uses the techniques of both view camera photography and narrative.
Both Solnit and Milosz transform picturesque vistas into fully alive places on the page. Their methods are instructive not only for writing about place, but as tools for toggling between any set of Big Questions and the particulars of moving as a body through streets.