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Table of Contents

Wideman's method and it is a method, though it's too elusive to be called a technique is to worry all those threads of connection, twisting them together and pulling them apart, raveling and unraveling and raveling again, and the outcome of the process is constantly in doubt.

You never know, because he doesn't, whether he'll end up with something strong and sturdy and built to last, or just a fistful of loose yarn. The longest entry in the book, titled with a nod to Wittgenstein "What We Cannot Speak About We Must Pass Over in Silence," ends with an ellipsis signifying the nonoccurrence of the event the whole story has apparently been building toward: a meeting between the narrator and the jailed son of a dead friend.

Wideman brings the storyteller, after agonies of indecision and procrastination, to the very gates of the prison yard and then denies him entrance.

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Some readers are bound to find this sort of withholding -- Wideman's persistent refusal to fulfill the requirements of well-made fiction -- willfully perverse; and their frustration may be especially acute in "God's Gym" because short stories, more than novels, are expected to be shapely, gemlike, self-sufficient. But it would be a mistake to think that he's just messing with our heads. Wideman violates the conventions of narrative and, at times, of language itself for the good reason that, after a lifetime of familiarity with them "God's Gym" is his 17th book , he has become convinced that they can't take him where he wants to go.

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As if to prove the point, he includes one traditional "well-made" story, called "Sharing," in this new collection, and it's by far the weakest of the bunch. Wideman has written fine stories of that kind in the past -- in the 's and the early 90's -- but his heart doesn't seem to be in them anymore.

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Their tidy truths aren't enough for him now. Wideman's deviations from standard English and mainstream literary practice, like those of other African-American writers, tend to get chalked up to his racial heritage, his improvisatory prose traced to the presumed influence of blues and jazz. That sort of culture-based argument is O. Not a long way, though, because such arguments inevitably flatten out the enormous, crucial differences between individual artists -- between Wideman and, say, Toni Morrison or Samuel R.

Delany, among his contemporaries. Wideman's intellectual restlessness, his dogged self-interrogation and his stubborn determination, late in life, to continue courting chaos in search of a more comprehensive sense of order are entirely his own: definitive as fingerprints.

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So the only way, I think, to appreciate fully this remarkable writer's body of work is to look closely at its idiosyncrasies, the little insanities that peep through the thicket of Wideman's prose. Like his strong aversion to question marks -- a stylistic peculiarity that seems not merely a tic but an indication of the writer's refusal to recognize any important distinction between questions and statements.

And then there's his obsession with the Swiss artist Alberto Giacometti, who pops up in "God's Gym" as he also did in the novels "Philadelphia Fire" and "Two Cities: A Love Story" as a sort of patron saint of artistic self-doubt. He understood art always failed. Art lied to him. After reaching a certain age, you tend to blend into the background a bit, so I was heartened the other day to learn that a perceptive Buzzfeed reporter has identified me and my aging-boomer peers as existential threats to democracy.

Geezers are much more likely than younger folks to share fake news on Facebook, Silverman notes, and purveyors of hoaxes on both ends of the political spectrum have learned to target them with their content. Yet, the bulk of digital literacy programs that have flourished since the election are focusing on younger voters. Politics, after all, is less about information than emotion.


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And while I doubt Mark Zuckerberg was considering electoral dynamics when he designed his social-media gold mine, it turned out to be the perfect vehicle for circulating drama, fear, anger, and joy — all in the service of manipulating the whims of the American voter. We live in an ultra-polarized country, where elections are typically decided by a narrow swath of independent-minded citizens who maybe only visit Facebook for the kitten videos.

Looking at it that way, I guess I can see why folks might be concerned. Craig Cox is an Experience Life deputy editor who explores the joys and challenges of aging well. Your email address will not be published.


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