The Craft of Flesh and Blood

The landscape of American fiction is a bleak and dreary place these days. It wends through the somber back lots and blue highways of rural America, tends toward the grimy streets of crumbling cities, populated by somewhat dim and desperate characters whose main goal seems to be making it to another day. Call it realism, call it world-weariness: the actors in our contemporary short stories and novels, bastard offspring of Raymond Carver's deconstruction of Chekhov, are as unthinking and uninteresting as the bulk of humankind.

From the days of Don Quixote until very recently, the fabulist's stock had been to place extraordinary characters in ordinary circumstances, or, even better, to place ordinary characters in situations that require ennobling—or at least unusual—actions. This charge has withered into the now-standard, tedious minimalism of writers like Richard Ford, the bleak nihilism of Bret Easten Ellis and the New York school of spoiled-rich-kid artistes who seem to dominate publishers' catalogs. Their art is a mirror reflecting life. But that life is shaped by television, illiteracy, junk food, and nothingness—hardly the stuff of a masterwork, or even of third-rate fiction.

If only because it restores something of the ordinary person's ability to rise to morally informed judgments in the face of adversity, Kent Nelson's work is to be commended. His fictions are...

Join now to access the full article and gain access to other exclusive features.

Get Started

Already a member? Sign in here