20 Under 40: A Comprehensive (Subjective) Guide

Nicole Krauss, “The Young Painters,” June 28:

Nicole Krauss

This one was so clearly an excerpt from Krauss’ then-forthcoming novel Great House (now out and already a nominee, though it didn’t win, for the National Book Award) that, like with Shteyngart, I felt cheated. That being said, I tried to quell my distaste for Krauss’ past writing (don’t get me started on the cutesy, grating History of Love) and ended up liking this. It was intriguing and honest. In the excerpt, a novelist (sure seems like a Krauss stand-in) tells a judge about when she wrote a story inspired by a painting she saw at a party. At the party, the owner of the apartment told everyone the horrific story behind the painting.

The narrator pretty much took that exact story and adapted it to her own purposes for fiction. Now, in addressing the judge, she admits to feeling terrible guilt over it. She does this often, stealing the experiences of others and using them for her writing. Later, long after the publication of the story, the man who owned the painting sees her and tells her he took down the painting, because her story opened up his eyes to something he hadn’t realized. This seems to make her feel even worse. Still, she tries to reason it out, to justify what she did. “Hadn’t he gamely told the story, not only to me but to all of the dinner guests that night?” she wonders, and then, “He had offered it with the same smile and festivity with which he had offered us a glass of grappa after dinner.” This story was an excerpt, sure, but it was a thought-provoking one.

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