Alexander Crompton

📚 23 - September

E.M. Forster (1927). Aspects of the Novel.

"The novel is sogged with humanity."

A quick and delicious read—Forster is erudite and opinionated. He provides a schema of the novel's "aspects"—story, people, plot, fantasy and prophecy, pattern and rhythm—that allow him to point out deeper underlying similarities in the structures of certain novels that might not seem otherwise much alike.

There's a lot to say about this book, and I plan to reread it one of these day. For now I'll focus on a few thoughts from my marginalia—

Forster defines "flat" characters and "rounded" characters. The rounded characters are "ready for extended life" and are "capable of surprising in convincing ways." Flat characters are "organized around a single quality"—what in the past might be called humors or caricatures.

Not to construct a straw-man, but I might say that flat characters get short shrift nowadays. The creation of a flat character (however minor) is seen as a fault of the author—some failure in empathy, or a departure from the mimetic fact of infinite human complexity. There's almost a whiff of the unethical around flat characters. The ability to create a rounded character as deftly as possible and with as much economy as possible is seen as a feat. Which it is, when it doesn't get too precious! But Forster makes a good point—flat characters are powerfully recognizable (and thus can be used to great effect when they reappear in the text) and memorable because they do not change. They have their place in the novel, and in the novel's toolbox for creating an effect in the reader.

Forster also makes a heartening point about POV (point of view)—it's okay for a novel's POV to have inconsistencies and ragged edges, as long as the novel is good enough to paper over them—to "bounce" the reader. Forster views the interplay of characters as far more important than the POV, despite generally POV being considered one of the most important questions in the construction of the novel.

I'm not sure if I agree with Forster here. My experience is that characters seem to arise "organically" during the writing process (as opposed to being chess pieces that are placed in opposition to one another), whereas point of view is a major decision that affects the entire novel and takes much more planning and a deeper sensitivity to intuition. But maybe my concern is indeed overblown!

___ (2010). 40 Jahre Vereinigungskirche Deutschland; Band 1: Pionierzeit, Vision und Auftrag. [Forty Years of the Unification Church in Germany, Volume I: Pioneer Days, Vision, and Mission]

Collection of testimonies from Unification Church members who live or lived in Germany, starting from the very first missionaries and church centers in the 1960s and onward to the '80s and beyond. (The second volume, also about 350 pages of German, is waiting for me on the shelf!)

What surprised me most about this book is something that should have been obvious to me: the first gen members who joined in their late teens and early twenties spent their youth in the church. That is: they were young. I often think about church members in the 1970s exclusively in terms of sacrifice and discomfort—witnessing and fundraising in the cold, sent off to isolating places for pioneer work. In my imagination, they are same age as they were when I knew them in my own youth.

But of course they weren't in their 30s and 40s in the 1970s. They were young; much younger than I am now. In their testimonies, the members speak of youthful antics and shenanigans that sound very similar to mine, with the same fondness and glee that I use when relating them.

The time you won your town the race we chaired you through the market-place, indeed!

Arianna Reiche (2023). At the End of Every Day.

The first contemporary novel I've read in ages!

Delphi Baxter gets sucked into the orbit of the iconic California theme park where she works—a phantasmagoria of forced perspective, underground tunnels, and uncanny animatronics. The destabilizing atmosphere of the park, which she allows herself to get lost in and subsumes her own identity, mirrors her own rupture from the past.

My favorite part of the reading experience was Delphi's engagement with the park around her—sleepwalking through tasks as the circumstances become stranger and stranger.