Metaphysical Parenting

James Wood

  • All Aunt Hagar’s Children by Edward P. Jones
    Harper Perennial, 399 pp, £7.99, March 2007, ISBN 978 0 00 724083 8

These days, God-like authorial omniscience is permitted only if God is a sweet ghost, the kind with whom the residents can peaceably coexist. This is especially true in most contemporary short stories, where the narrator may be wildly unreliable (first person) or reliably invisible (third person), but not wildly visible and reliable. Few younger contemporary writers risk the kind of biblical interference that Muriel Spark hazards, or that V.S. Naipaul practises in A House for Mr Biswas, in which the narrative eschatologically leaps ahead to inform us of how the characters will end their lives, or casually blinks away years at a time: ‘In all, Mr Biswas lived six years at The Chase, years so squashed by their own boredom and futility that they could be comprehended in one glance.’ Comprehended by whom?

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