The Year of the Gadfly

Jennifer Miller has written a smart first novel and — like nearly all first-time novelists — is struggling to find a home in the literary marketplace. Today she had a long piece on The Millions, about autobiographical fiction, and the benefits of autobiography for the first-time novelist. Her piece was really compelling at the end, where she discussed her own process with Year of the Gadfly: “(The novel) took me seven years from conception to publication. And my personal connection to the story was a key part of my stamina.”

Probably my favorite part of the novel is the ending, where the sections shorten — and the narrative viewpoints stack atop each other, quickening the pace: “I’d read through the script a couple of times,” Miller writes, “but I couldn’t seem to make my voice cooperate. My insides felt drafty, swept through by a shivering wind.”

Year of the Gadfly is a good book. There’s a cameo appearance by the Ghost of Edward R. Murrow — as well as a compulsively readable setting. Miller has blogged, recently, in a variety of places, about this intersection between autobiographical detail and fiction, and the ways in which the media sees (or doesn’t see) works with an autobiographical element. This is a fierce debate right now in fiction, and I think it’s fueled, in part, by the increasing prevalence of MFA programs, which seem to imply — somehow — an environment of exclusion.

Myself, I have trouble with the idea that anyone should be excluded from the broad tent of literature. Writing and reading — especially reading — seem to be so at odds with our current culture, that to pick sides within such a diminished arena seems foolish to me. But, then again, revolutionary demands have always been a part of the politics of art.

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