Posted Tuesday, June 16, 2009, at 8:11 AM
I think you're right, Meghan, to point out the disconnect in Leah Hager Cohen's NYT book review of Kate Walbert's A Short History of Women . I love Walbert's writing - she was my beloved fiction teacher in college, she gave me a copy of Marilynne Robinson's Housekeeping , and I always see a connection between her beautiful, spare, every-word-counts prose and Robinson's.
I do think, though, that there is a degree of narrowcasting in some of Walbert's work. Our Kind , her last novel, was about a small group of women who occupy a privileged WASPY world. A Short History of Women , which I haven't read yet, appears to tread the same terrain. ( The Gardens of Kyoto , Walbert's first novel, is a little different because it pulls in the Underground Railroad and the Korean War.) I tentatively introduce the idea of narrowcasting not as a synonym for "miniature" - as you pointed out over lunch today, Updike's characters occupy a similar social stratum, and no one goes around accusing him of being small. Instead, my point is that critics and reviewers confine some writers to the worlds they create and let others roam. I suppose we could come up with some criteria for whose canvas most evokes distant peaks. And we also have to recognize which peaks we're primed to see. I also wonder if reviewers simply dismiss short books as small ones -a bias you've also deconstructed, and which always strikes me as especially misguided. In any case, I can't wait to read this new book and absorb its large truths.