At Bad Eminence, a lengthy, well-written post on the somewhat contentious (but always respectful) argument between William Gass and John Gardner on the purpose of fiction. I am in Gass’ camp, myself, but it’s worthwhile to note that his fiction and his theories on same often contradict each other; just because Gass has doubts about the importance of such nebulous concepts as “character”, “plot” and “meaning” doesn’t mean that he eschews them in his own work. I in fact would argue that Gass’ work in the short story form is among the greatest that has been produced by an American in the second half of the last century, worthy of being ranked with Carver, O’Connor and other masters. His two novels are both, in their own way, practically without compare. Omensetter’s Luck is the closest thing we have to a Midwestern Faulkner and The Tunnel is such a tour-de-force of metaphor and peculiar linguistic construction that the OED itself might seem starved for words by comparison.
Gardner’s work has not aged as well. Grendel is clever and remains an excellent read, but October Light is one of the worst, most hideously didactic books I’ve ever read. On Moral Fiction, his infamous treatise on the aforementioned subject of fiction’s purpose, happens to be an excellently written argument–but nevertheless one I don’t agree with a single word of.