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Why is the narrative personal essay in vogue right now?Is it because of a belief that readers (and perhaps editors) abhor a state of uncertainty, preferring to be led along a discernible path to a firm conclusion?We no longer have the leisure of previous centuries, as Dinty W. Or is it simply that we humans are “wired for story” as Lisa Cron writes in her book by that title? Many fine publications remain open to either treatment—narrative or reflective.
In narrative personal essays, I often feel rushed to arrive at and over that pesky narrative arc that looms like a hurdle on an otherwise level path; There’s the unfolding of the plot and the determined trot towards the climax and resolution.
An email from an editor made it clear where his interest lay. [Italics mine.] The writer of the narrative personal essay is discouraged from wondering, meandering, or doubling back to poke at inchoate thoughts, or to reconsider questions that refuse to be easily, even glibly, settled.
In “The Personal Essay: A Form of Discovery,” His introduction to , Epstein writes “Literary forms, like stocks, rise and fall, not in value of course, but in prestige.” Might the reflective personal essay be on its way out?
Will there no longer exist room in our nonfiction universe for both narrative and reflective personal essays?
Like a fictional story, a narrative personal essay can “recount a string of events,” as essayist and editor Joseph Epstein writes in his Forward to .
As in a fictional story, a narrative personal essay includes an inciting incident (or catalyst), conflict, obstacles placed in the path of the main character (or, in the case of a personal essay, the narrator), a climax, and a resolution.
Among my favorites is Natalia Ginzburg’s first published in 1962.
In it, Ginzburg employs repetition, counterpoint, and hyperbole to describe the ways in which she is inferior to her almost preternaturally astute and accomplished, though rather imperious, husband, only inserting glimpses of his weaknesses after we’re just about convinced he possesses none.
Perhaps what I fear is not only the demise of the reflective essay.
It’s possible my apprehension stems from the way I experience my own life.