Ilse Munro: Turning Fragments into Fiction

Leaves of Glass
photo credit: psyberartist via flickr

…then sit very still and ask yourself, as a reader, what piece of writing in all the world Buddy Glass would most want to read if he had his heart’s choice. The next step is terrible, but so simple I can hardly believe it as I write it. You just sit down shamelessly and write the thing yourself.
—JD Salinger, Seymour: An Introduction, 1959

If I took your suggestion, Seymour, I’d write novels. Long ones, at that. In fact, I am writing one now that will rival À la recherche du temps perdu in word count when done. Still, I’m strangely drawn to shorter fiction. I believe I’m beginning to understand why. When I look at the lives of others, I see stories, even sagas; when I look at my own, I see fragments. I once attributed this to the weird way I was wired and my tumultuous past, but now suspect it may be universal. That what we know of our own existence is based on glimpses from the corner of the eye, in passing. Which is what VS Pritchett was sort of said to have said about short fiction. Which means, Seymour, when I first sit down to write that sort of thing, it can’t be to create what I’d most want to read, which would be a story. But as I shape and polish my fragments—or rather, my shards—a narrative forms. I grow to like the piece and want others to share in my pleasure.

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