You could have heard a pin drop in East Hampton on Saturday as Joseph Salvatore, founding editor of The New School's literary journal, "LIT" and professor at The New School discussed the building of characters in modern fiction. Citing Jonathan Franzen's novels The Corrections and Freedom, Salvatore explained the author's intent to restore the social novel a la Henry James.
Salvatore explained the differences between the character-driven plot, which features what E. M. Forester called "round" characters -- characters that experience change or a catharsis, and the plot-driven novel, which features "flat" characters that could be inserted into the story without any resulting change; the "flat" character serves only the plot.
Salvatore also pointed out Franzen's use of what he calls "characterization through correction:" the character that creates tension in the story by trying to correct a perceived wrong. The tension occurs when the character is prevented from easily achieving their goal.
Salvatore also read from the opening chapter of Freedom in order to illustrate the numerous voices and points-of-view Franzen masterfully utilizes in describing two of his main characters, Walter and Patty Berglund. It was an almost "Inception"-like "kick-up-the-layers" as Salvatore noted the changes of perspective that overlap and switch back on themselves in the first few pages.
A lively question and answer period followed with discussion of Tolstoy, Nabokov and of course, more Franzen. Salvatore's story collection, To Assume a Pleasing Shape will be published by BOA Editions in November.
Join us next Saturday in East Hampton at 5:00pm when we welcome author Donovan Hohn to read from Moby-Duck: The True Story of 28,800 Bath Toys Lost at Sea and of the Beachcombers, Oceanographers, Environmentalists, and Fools, Including the Author, Who Went in Search of Them.