The Salvador Dali of Prose
Posted October 21, 2011on:
I think it can be very dangerous to give high praise to authors like Gene Wolfe. Fortunately, there aren’t many authors like Gene Wolfe.
I believe the title Endangered Species is meant to refer to the short story form. I remember reading that somewhere but I can’t remember where. I’ve had this collection of stories a long time. I’ve hung onto it in spite of throwing away hundreds upon hundreds of other books. So I think perhaps that Gene Wolfe himself is more of an endangered species than either his stories or the short story form.
The reason it’s dangerous to praise him is that he is good in a way that few people ever can be. Seeing him praised, lesser writers might attempt to copy him. They would almost certainly copy the wrong things and write badly as a result.
One of his gifts is to do the unexpected thing. I don’t mean he will give the story a twist at the end. I mean he will give the inspiration for the story a twist. And then perhaps another twist. Until he arrives at something sufficiently unusual to engage his imagination.
And then he will write out the story in his inimitably precise, pedantic and quirky style.
He can be meticulously literary and self-conscious at times, vain and yet somehow still startling, like the Salvador Dali of prose. But he can also be much more clever than this. He can write simply. He can put one word in front of another in exactly the right order in the most unpretentious and unstartling way, so as to convey the very clear sense of his extravagant and startling ideas.
These stories can be very challenging. When you start one, you never know what your are letting yourself in for. Anything could happen. It’s like venturing into the unknown.
How brave are you feeling today?