Fiction writer and essayist Charles Baxter's The Art of Subtext: Beyond Plot discusses and illustrates the hidden subtextual overtones and undertones in fictional works haunted by the unspoken, the suppressed, and the secreted. Using an array of examples from Melville and Dostoyevsky to contemporary writers Paula Fox, Edward P. Jones, and Lorrie Moore, Baxter explains how fiction writers create those visible and invisible details, how what is displayed evokes what is not displayed.
The Art of Subtext is part of The Art of series, a line of books by important authors on the craft of writing, edited by Charles Baxter. Each book examines a singular, but often assumed or neglected, issue facing the contemporary writer of fiction, nonfiction, or poetry. The Art of series means to restore the art of criticism while illuminating the art of writing. Of the series, Baxter writes, "The Art of series is meant to restore criticism as an art, with writers examining features of their craft in lively and colorful prose."
"Think of subtext in fiction as water; its characters, swimmers on the surface. Like water, subtext is everywhere, ubiquitous and buoyant, darker in its depths, the stuff of immersion. The beauty of Baxter's inaugural entry in Graywolf's . . . 'Art of' series, which draws on examples in literature to instruct on the writing craft, is that it doesn't assume to try and capture the whole of subtext. What book could? Instead, it focuses on very specific qualities composing it: the art of staging in a story, the importance of inflection in dialog, the ambiguity of motivation. To make the often translucent substance more visible, Baxter highlights excerpts from a wide range of fiction, from the contemporaneous and familiar to the foreign and esoteric . . . Baxter's book will help readers read more creatively and writers to float their stories . . . Highly recommended for all academic libraries."—Maria Kochis, Library Journal
"Baxter's analysis of 'the implied, the half-visible, and the unspoken' in literature [has] a keen sense of pacing and a healthy dose of self-awareness . . . Indeed, as the brief chapters of this little book build on each other, Baxter's observations . . . gain clarity and momentum . . . Many of the issues raised in this volume are as old as the study of literature itself, but Baxter's ability to ask unusual and incisive questions of familiar topics (Why is the volatility of Dostoyevsky's characters so unpleasant? Why is it so difficult—and yet so vital—to describe facial features?) makes this little volume worthwhile for the engaged student of literature."—Publishers Weekly
Praise for Charles Baxter's Burning Down the House: Essays on Fiction:
"What elevates this collection from the status of technical manual (which it also is, and a brilliant one at that) is Mr. Baxter's rare ability to gauge the capacities of fiction for conveying an image not only of individual existence, but of the characteristic feel of a time, a culture, a way of life."—The Washington Times
"The most pleasurable and instructive book on the craft since John Gardner's The Art of Fiction."—City Pages