Contemporary Nonfiction and Sara Suleri's Meatless Days
Yishane Lee '91 (English 137, 1990)
Like other late-twentieth-century authors -- like, for example, Wolfe, Dillard, McPhee, Chatwin, Raban, Didion, -- Suleri creates a form of nonfiction that has much in common with the writings of the Victorian sages, Carlyle, Ruskin, Arnold, and Thoreau.. Like all of them, Suleri shows points of view that readers by themselves cannot perceive or comprehend. By describing lifestyles alien to the average reader and making sense of them as Wolfe attempts to do, or by revealing personal histories that perhaps the reader will identify with and apply to his own life, the writers impart interpretations that inform. They make things accessible, able to be comprehended, knowable to the reader. As such, all are masters of experience. Each shows his or her gift for communicating private, very personal experiences to the reader.
The writings from New Journalists, Victorian sages, satirists, travel writers and autobiographers push the boundaries of fiction and blur distinctions between nonfiction and the novel by introducing elements of both. They suspend fiction's dependence on plot, on its goal of reaching of a degree of closure, by playing with how literature usually is temporally and spatially arranged. The stories do not follow a set chronology but instead are pastiches, layers of set pieces, that create a novel in their combination. Yet they do do not eliminate plot completely; characters and storylines still exist to provide, at the very least, an interesting story. Suleri, by constructing an intimate history covering personal lives of individual characters taking place in ‹ but intrinsically and inseparably related to ‹ the public sphere of international history, epitomizes that writer of a compelling story that, ultimately, hopes to speak to each reader.
Last modified 18 May 2001