Here’s a letter I sent to some people introducing the book:
Recently I discovered a statement by Fredrick Buechner concerning his favorite novel and mine, Dostoyevski’s The Brothers Karamazov. Mr. Buechner suggests the story’s magic may have arrived because Dostoyevski left room to include whatever came up.
Early in my writing life, I learned, in school and in the mystery community, an attitude here expressed by Flannery O’Connor: “If the writer’s attention is on producing a work of art, he is going to take great pains to control every excess, everything that does not contribute to the work’s central meaning and design.”
As a believer in that attitude, I found Buechner’s implied suggestion, that we might consider leaving room for other than what is obviously relevant, both problematic and immensely refreshing.
Since I am keenly aware of the wastelands to which leaving room for peripheral material can lead, I imagined inviting Mr. Buechner and Ms. O’Connor to discuss the issue:
Buechner presents O’Connor with his assessment of The Brothers Karamazov. She points out that what applied to Dostoyevski doesn’t necessarily apply to us all. He replies (as he expressed in an article), “Still, writers ought to exercise their freedom from restraint to the outermost limits of their gifts and skills.”
And while she considers his amendment, I humbly suggest that a crucial part of our task as artists is to recognize our limits and apply them.
To my profound relief, both masterful writers nod in agreement.
Returning to For America (begun long ago as a short story) after years of writing books that taught me to recognize my abilities and limits, I have granted myself more liberty than ever before, which is one reason the novel requires all its 170,000 words.
Besides, it’s a big story, as demonstrated in the synopsis that follows, my attempt to present the barest bones.
Though I certainly wouldn’t compare my abilities or works to those of Dostoyevski, I’ll suggest that For America is akin to John Irving’s A Prayer for Owen Meany.