The Work of Fiction and the Fiction of Work


A life is divided into three parts: the time before you’re able to work, the time after you’re able to work, and the monstrous bulk of time between. After obedience to the law and some basic moral code, work is one of the great demands placed upon the able. It’s inherently traumatic, a sacrifice of one’s own desires to a larger set of aggregate social desires. Fiction gives us a way to cope with this arrangement, or at the very least a way to understand it.

In Sloane Crosley’s debut novel, The Clasp, three formerly close friends in their late twenties try to negotiate their first disillusionment with the world of work. Their jobs in tech, fashion, and television are a representative holy trinity of cool jobs. But even in these dream jobs young people deal with the same nonsense as anywhere else: long hours, pointless meetings, aggravating coworkers, and bosses with more money than sense. Most work is not fulfilling, and by the time we finally realize it all the friends we’d like to turn to for support have been scattered across the globe in pursuit of fulfilling work. This is something we can only discover after college when we’re saddled with enough debt to last us a decade or two. Crosley sends her main characters on a vacation together to give them a little perspective on their dwindling friendship and their respective vocational ruts. You’ll have to decide for yourself whether they make any significant progress on either front, but the question lingers even after the novel ends: once lost, is there any amount of perspective that can restore our love for work?Continue Reading

The Best Short Story I Read in a Lit Mag This Week: “Fatherhood” by David Rutschman


How many words does it take to encapsulate a feeling? An experience? A story we looked at two weeks ago, “Love” by Clarice Lispector, spends just under 3,500 words exploring its title, where Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom takes well over 500 pages plumbing its own. While “Fatherhood” by David Rutschman (Waxwing) is a mere 174 words, the world of experience it evokes regarding its title feels far larger than its word count.

As you might expect, the story starts quickly, in the first two sentences providing context, rules, and the inciting incident.

I was teaching my son to throw stones into the water when he became a stone and I threw him in the water.

“My boy, my darling boy,” I called and I hurled myself after him and I became a stone and we tumbled down to the silent muddy bottom.

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The Best Short Story I Read in a Lit Mag This Week: “Love” by Clarice Lispector


There have been many craft essays written over the last few decades arguing the merits of the classic Joyce-ian epiphany. In “Love,” (The Offing), Clarice Lispector (translated by Katrina Dodson) explores the nature of epiphanies, and perhaps more importantly, what we do with them once they happen.

We meet the protagonist Ana as she’s returning from the grocer. We find she is well settled into domestic life, where her familial responsibilities have insulated her from the broader world. Notice how Lispector illustrates this through Ana’s inability to conceive of her former self, before being a homemaker.

“What had happened to Ana before she had a home was forever out of reach: a restless exaltation so often mistaken for unbearable happiness. In exchange she had created something at last comprehensible, an adult life. That was what she had wanted and chosen.”

Ana wants a comprehensible life; she doesn’t want mystery, she wants understanding. She doesn’t want surprises, she wants control. Or at least a part of her does. Lispector reveals that at moments during each day, that domestic tranquility is threatened.Continue Reading

The Ploughshares Round-Down: Why “Do What You Love” Is Bad Advice

find a job you loveIn 2005, Steve Jobs gave a now-famous graduation speech at Stanford University. “You’ve got to find what you love,” he said.

“Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do.”

“Yes! This is the Truth about careering!” Said everyone, ever.

Or okay, most of us. Who read or heard it.
And who also are privileged enough to have lives in which such an admonition has any chance of being follow-able.

Oh darn.Continue Reading

The Power of Suggestion: My First Time with D.H.Lawrence

Having grown up within various loops of the Bible belt, sex was not often a topic of conversation during my childhood—unless it was in the state-mandated sex ed class in fifth-grade (traumatic!), or the late-night whispers of slumber parties (distraction while someone’s bra was getting frozen). Had the idea of sensuality ever been mentioned, it probably would have been even more taboo.

College, however, turned things upside down, bringing in new ideas and people. Among them was a boy who sent me a Galway Kinnell poem and asked if I thought sensuality was impossible.

I never had an answer for him.

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Roundup: All You Need is Love (and a Good Story)

As we launch a new blog format for the new year, we’re also looking back at all the great posts since the blog started in 2009. Our roundups explore the archives and gather past posts around a certain theme to help you jump-start your week. This week we have posts on love.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Well, on the fourteenth, but it’s never too early to start spreading the love, and great literature about love, for that matter. Everyone likes a good love story.

  • In her article, “Fleas Are for Lovers,” Ms. Lowe tells that “once upon a time the flea was also a popular emblem of erotic love.” Who knew?

adult male Oropsylla Montana flea

Love Park
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