How Photography Shaped Wright Morris’s Fiction
This Week From the Lit Century Podcast
Welcome to Lit Century: 100 Years, 100 Books. Combining literary analysis with an in-depth look at historical context, hosts Sandra Newman and Catherine Nichols choose one book for each year of the 20th century, and—along with special guests—will take a deep dive into a hundred years of literature.
In this episode, writers Alex Higley and Willie Fitzgerald join host Catherine Nichols to discuss three short stories by Wright Morris: “The Sound Tape,” “The Character of the Lover,” and “The Cat in the Picture.” Higley, who brought the stories to Lit Century, talks about how he discovered Morris’s writing through his photographs and photo-texts. The group also talks about Morris’s detached, bemused voice that sometimes tips over into confusion or joy, and the way his stories cheat the reader of conclusive meaning and leave them in a place of mystery.
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From the episode:
Catherine Nichols: I was really struck by that because that was the first one that I noticed where he fully inhabits a different consciousness for a minute. That’s a full perspective change out of Dr. Hodler’s into Robert’s mind. There are several others of these in “The Sound Tape” also; I don’t know that there are in the third story we read. It’s an interesting move that I think writers are often urged not to do because it can seem like a lack of control. But I also think that the urge to do that, the urge to show even a little bit more about what’s going on inside character’s mind, it feels like a portrait-taking urge.
Alex Higley: I totally do. There’s this quality—in both the first two stories, but I think in “The Character the Lover” maybe, it’s like the close third narration is bemused, but that tips over into something else very quickly. And the thing that it can tip over into is either confusion or befuddlement or joy, and I think all of that is coming from a baseline of openness.
Alex Higley is the author of the short story collection Cardinal and the novel Old Open. Willie Fitzgerald is currently the Mari Sabusawa Editorial Fellow at American Short Fiction. His work has appeared in Hobart, Poor Claudia, City Arts, Keep This Bag Away From Children and elsewhere.
Catherine Nichols is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in many places, including Jezebel, Aeon, and Electric Literature. She lives in Brookyln.