Christine Schutt's novel of money, jealousy, and marital discontent
by Christine Schutt
$24.00 List Price
What do we make of the adjective poetic when applied to prose fiction? While meant as praise, the modifier often sways backhandedly—as eclectic does for a menu—warning that what’s ahead may prove puzzling at best or downright indigestible at worst. Certainly the description indicates the presence of typical techniques—rhythm, alliteration, figurative language, and the like—as well as a density of both locution and imagery. But when used to characterize prose, on book jackets or in reviews, there’s an abiding sense the word also signals effeteness and self-indulgence: This is no mere page-turner you’re holding. Christine Schutt—author of the short-story collections Nightwork (1996) and A Day, a Night, Another Day, Summer (2006) and two novels, Florida (2004) and All Souls (2008)—has been tagged with this adjective throughout her career. Indeed, quotes from John Ashbery, who selected Nightwork as a best book of the year for the Times Literary Supplement in 1996, can be found among her blurbs. And the much-lauded author (National Book Award nomination, recipient of a Pushcart Prize and a Guggenheim, and a finalist for a Pulitzer) has done rather nicely despite the designation’s ambiguities. Still, it bears pondering, just what is this hybrid blossom, poetic prose, and how is Schutt’s fiction—rather commonly themed around incest, emotional disturbance, marital dissolution—particularly different for its presence in her pages?
Florida, Schutt’s first novel, was turned down by numerous publishers—no doubt because of its unconventional style. In short vignettes Alice, the narrator,