Dwight Garner’s review in today’s Herald Tribune of Elif Batuman’s book “The Possessed” made me buy the book right away.
Dwight Garner is one of the better book critics of The Times. It’s not very hard to be a better critic than Janet Maslin, but still.
Mr. Garner writes: ‘Early in Elif Batuman’s funny and melancholy first book, “The Possessed,” she describes her disillusionment, as a would-be novelist, with “the transcendentalist New England culture of ‘creative writing.’ ” The problem with creative writing programs, she says, is their obsession with craft.
“What did craft ever try to say about the world, the human condition, or the search for meaning?” Ms. Batuman asks. “All it had were its negative dictates: ‘Show, don’t tell’; ‘Murder your darlings’; ‘Omit needless words.’ As if writing were a matter of overcoming bad habits — of omitting needless words.” Ms. Batuman’s search for something more from literature than “brisk verbs and vivid nouns” led her, swooning but alert, into the arms of the great Russian writers: Tolstoy, Pushkin, Dostoyevsky, Chekhov, Babel.’
I love this sentence: “As if writing were a matter of overcoming bad habits.”