Meander, Spiral, Explode: Design and Pattern in Narrative
A Publishers Weekly Best Book of 2019
One of Poets & Writers' Best Books for Writers
"How lovely to discover a book on the craft of writing that is also fun to read. . . Alison asserts that the best stories follow patterns in nature, and by defining these new styles she offers writers the freedom to explore but with enough guidance to thrive." --Maris Kreizman, Vulture
As Jane Alison writes in the introduction to her insightful and appealing book about the craft of writing: "For centuries there's been one path through fiction we're most likely to travel-- one we're actually told to follow--and that's the dramatic arc: a situation arises, grows tense, reaches a peak, subsides . . . But something that swells and tautens until climax, then collapses? Bit masculosexual, no? So many other patterns run through nature, tracing other deep motions in life. Why not draw on them, too?"
W. G. Sebald's Emigrants was the first novel to show Alison how forward momentum can be created by way of pattern, rather than the traditional arc-- or, in nature, wave. Other writers of nonlinear prose considered in her "museum of specimens" include Nicholson Baker, Anne Carson, Marguerite Duras, Gabriel García Márquez, Jamaica Kincaid, Clarice Lispector, Susan Minot, David Mitchell, Caryl Phillips, and Mary Robison.
Meander, Spiral, Explode is a singular and brilliant elucidation of literary strategies that also brings high spirits and wit to its original conclusions. It is a liberating manifesto that says, Let's leave the outdated modes behind and, in thinking of new modes, bring feeling back to experimentation. It will appeal to serious readers and writers alike.
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About the Author
Publishers Weekly, One of the Best Nonfiction Books of the Year
A Big Other Most Anticipated Small Press Book of the Year
"Alison's close readings can be exhilarating. One of her more seductive ideas is the notion of possible 'correlations between kinds of stories and certain patterns, ' as when reflective first-person novels adopt the spiral . . . Alison's prose is potent and lush, her enthusiasm infectious . . . The fecundity of Alison's writing is of a piece with her larger mission: to turn narrative theory into a supersaturated mindfuck of hedonistic extravaganza. It is a special kind of literary criticism." --Katy Waldman, The New Yorker
"A playful, insightful taxonomy of narratives that while seeming to defy categorization, in fact take their innovative structures from patterns found in nature: fractals, cells, wavelets, and more . . . A thought-provoking manual for writers, critics, and casual readers alike." --The Atlantic, One of the Best Books of the Year
"[A] boundlessly inventive look at narrative form . . . It would do a disservice to this work to pigeonhole it as 'literary criticism'; the study is filled with clarity and wit, underlain with formidable erudition." --Publishers Weekly (starred review)
"You don't have to be a professional writer to enjoy novelist Jane Alison's brilliant new craft guide Meander, Spiral, Explode: Design and Pattern in Narrative, published by Catapult Press. Anyone who reads stands to appreciate her argument that the primary way most of us are taught that fiction ought to be structured--Freytag's famous triangle--is neither the best nor the only method." --Kathleen Rooney, Chicago Tribune, What to Read This Summer
"Transformative . . . This book will introduce you to works you've never heard of, and also change your interpretation of better-known stories; Alison's reading of David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas, for instance, pushes the novel's symmetrical structure beyond gimmick and into something sublime. The questions many of these texts ask, Alison points out, are not 'what happens next?' but 'why did this happen?' and 'what grows in my mind as I read?'" --Maddie Oatman, Mother Jones
"What if everything you know, everything you've been taught, about writing is wrong? Or, if not wrong, precisely, at least restrictive, oriented in only one direction, without much room to get creative and go outside the bounds of what had been done before? This is what Jane Alison explores in her fascinating new book, which looks at the ways in which prescriptive writing has led to sameness and predictability. Alison encourages an exploration of techniques and styles, offering examples of experimental writing from masters like W.G. Sebald, Clarice Lispector, and Jamaica Kinkaid, as proof of the many ways that writing can shine when not on a typical linear path, when it is allowed instead to spiral and spring forward and back, fold in on itself or unravel in infinite directions, all of which feel new and exciting." --Kristin Iversen, NYLON, 1 of 15 Great Books to Read This Month
"Alison's book is like a cold shower to ward off the standard narrative arc and rewire our mental circuitry to see the patterns of nature in the structure of novels . . . This is a playful and exciting book that opens up all sorts of new possibilities for narrative arcs." --Sarah Boon, Chicago Review of Books
"A modern writing manifesto that encourages creatives to leave outdated modes of storytelling behind and embrace the dramatic arcs we see in life and nature." --Kerri Jarema, Bustle, 1 of 29 New Memoirs Out in Spring
"How lovely to discover a book on the craft of writing that is also fun to read. Australian author Jane Alison has written a great one in which she urges us to abandon--or at least improve upon--the traditional story arc that has dominated fiction since the age of Aristotle. Alison asserts that the best stories follow patterns in nature, and by defining these new styles she offers writers the freedom to explore but with enough guidance to thrive." --Maris Kreizman, Vulture, A Best New Paperback Book of the Month
"Jane Alison's book on craft calls into question the dramatic arc many writers have been taught to follow in their work . . . Alison presents a 'museum of specimens' including writing by Anne Carson, Raymond Carver, Gabriel García Márquez, Jamaica Kincaid, Clarice Lispector, and Mary Robison, to illustrate some of the possibilities for nonlinear storytelling--and she invites her readers to follow these examples to 'keep making our novels novel.'" --Poets & Writers, One of the Best Book for Writers
"Meander, Spiral, Explode is the best craft book I've read in years; it questions the primacy of the arc-shaped narrative and presents a series of alternative ones, using for examples--and this is no accident--some of the best books in modern literature . . . It'll blow your mind." --Emily Temple, Literary Hub
"The best work of literary criticism I've read so far this year . . . Explores patterning and design in narrative, questioning the supposed prominence of the 'narrative arc.' What about other shapes, Alison asks, leading us through the work of the writers who use them--Sebald, Baker, Carson, Duras, Gabriel García Márquez, Kincaid, Lispector, Minot, Mitchell, etc. etc. etc. I think they would all be pleased by this book." --Emily Temple, Literary Hub
"In Meander, Spiral, Explode, Jane Alison casts aside the traditional structure of the story and considers the shape of other arcs . . . I'm excited to see how she explores beloved texts." --Katie Yee, Literary Hub, 1 of 19 Books to Read This Month
"Who knew literary criticism could be so much fun? That's the impression that lingers after finishing novelist, memoirist and University of Virginia creative writing professor Jane Alison's Meander, Spiral, Explode: Design and Pattern in Narrative . . . Alison's gift for close reading brings to mind fellow novelist and critic Francine Prose's Reading Like a Writer, and her enthusiasm for this literary archeology project is infectious . . . It's a book that will have open-minded readers viewing the next work of serious fiction they encounter with a more discerning eye, ear and mind." --Harvey Freedenberg, Shelf Awareness
"A meditation on alternative narrative forms . . . I'm thinking of using [Meander, Spiral, Explode] in my creative nonfiction class next fall. It's a neat and very easily accessible book that could be used by writers as a craft book, but also you could read it as a reader to figure out why is it that certain stories feel really refreshing or new . . . I loved it." --Elizabeth Rush, Longreads, What Are You Reading?
"Novelist Alison's stylistic primer promises to stand apart, among the many writing guides publishing next year, in its tightly focused attention to the nuts and bolts of technique." --Publishers Weekly, 1 of the Top 10 Books for Spring, Essays & Literary Criticism
"Venturing into the world of narrative theory, [Alison] takes a personal and idiosyncratic approach . . . For readers interested in literary theory, Alison does a great job making it palatable." --Kirkus Reviews
"In this wholly original analysis of style, [Jane Alison] explores the forms and shapes that narrative can take, pushing the bounds of storytelling beyond the infamous pyramid of climax . . . Her observations of the sensory aspects of literature are indulgent and delectable, and sure to elevate the experience of readers and writers alike." --Booklist
"Alison's exuberance with the subject matter is contagious, her approach both personal and deeply researched . . . Meander, Spiral, Explode leaves us as writers and readers in an exciting place, alert for patterns in nature we might see replicated in the fiction we read, or that might serve to support the next story we draft." --Katelyn Keating, CRAFT
"Doctors don't imitate Galen. Why should writers follow Aristotle? Jane Alison in her fresh, original book about narrative is our new Aristotle." --Edmund White, author of The Unpunished Vice: A Life of Reading