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Katy Waldman on Jane Alison

At the New Yorker, Katy Waldman has a wild, exuberant review of a book of narrative theory by Jane Alison — not the sort of book to usually inspire the language she applies to it:

Meander, Spiral, Explode is a deeply wacky book, in ways that are both obvious and subtle. Alison cuts extraneous words for breathless effect. Before a meditation on the use of color in fiction — “not as symbol, like Fitzgerald’s green… but as a unifying wash,” like Sebald’s gray — she exclaims, “Coloration, coloratura. Words, sounds, a streak of color: synesthesia!” (Conjunctions, verbs!) Alison’s prose is potent and lush, her enthusiasm infectious. She favors the word “ditto” and the equal sign instead of “is.” Often she issues commands or invitations. Defining the “meander” shape, Alison exhorts the reader to “picture a river curving and kinking, a snake in motion, a snail’s silver trail, or the path left by a goat grazing the tenderest greens.”

Such verbal raptures may ensorcell seventh graders and leave older readers occasionally feeling that they need to lie down. But 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 that can make the reader appear to herself a prune, or a prude. For Alison, reading is “motionless movement.” Her book takes the shape of a roller coaster.