The Art of Mystery: The Search for Questions

Graywolf's Art of series examines elements of literature through perceptive and meditative essays that shed light on the craft of writing. In the 14th volume in the series, The Art of Mystery, novelist Maud Casey (The Man Who Walked Away) reflects on mystery in fiction--sometimes wondrous, often disconcerting, always slippery.

Casey wisely observes that while the concern of mystery as a genre is about finding answers, "mystery, that elusive yet essential element of fiction, is about finding the questions." The search for questions takes us to what Casey calls the "Land of Un--uncertainty, unfathomability, unknowing," where the reader is kept off-kilter while exploring unfamiliar terrain. With striking insight, Casey looks at aspects of mystery in well-known works of literature: the mystery of looking vs. seeing in Sonny's Blues by James Baldwin; the mystery of imagery in Flannery O'Connor's Good Country People and in Alison Bechdel's Fun Home; and the mystery of the "antifactual" in the classic Henry James novella Turn of the Screw. Casey studies lesser-known works to explore mystery in character, including the "simultaneously beautiful and terrifying" novel The Vet's Daughter by Barbara Comyns, and considers the mystery of innocence in Skylark by Dezso Kosztolányi.

To deeply understand the art of mystery, Casey considers its role in other art forms, including the work of the photographer Vivian Maier, who has proved to be as elusive as her subjects. What these all have in common is their concern with searching, rather than finding--a fine distinction that Casey clearly articulates as the essence of the art of mystery. --Frank Brasile, selection librarian, writer, editor

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