something was happening there & you never knew what it was
Every so often someone writes a spy or detective story in which they demonstrate that causal chains are never fully traceable and dependable. We’re to understand this as a subversion of storytelling’s central assumption, which is that a narrative can be both realistic and schematic. But demonstration isn’t subversion: it’s closer to celebration. All the writer has done is use orderly structures to point out in an orderly fashion that disorder exists; followed by a clever twist, mic drop and applause. Fiction like that is not subversive, it is reassuring. Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch, denying its own conclusions even as it drew them, produced the very opposite of the random churn it claimed to reveal. Even an interesting novel like Wolfgang Herrndorf’s Sand, while edging up to the possibility of epistemic failure, elucidates it rationally at the last; avoiding the implications of the subject matter out of a lack of faith in the idea or the reader or both.