Always Raining Somewhere, Said Jim Johnson” by John Edgar Wideman is a story that revisits a writer’s experience at the Iowa Writing Workshop.  Fiction?  Nonfiction?  It doesn’t matter.  While Wideman grounds the writing deep into the pastureland of Iowa, it seems like the land is plowed and planted with row after row of sentimentality.  If Wideman was a football player, this would be a story about the good old days of his rookie season and all the times he had.  Instead, the story follows a thinly veiled Wideman and two friends from the writing program as they drink and bullshit.  That doesn’t necessarily sound interesting.  Now, imagine a sentimentalized story about three young writers drinking and bullshitting.  See where this is going?

Wideman does do a good job capturing the Midwest, but even then it’s the Midwest as seen through years of memories.  It’s a Midwest that doesn’t exist anymore, and maybe never did.  Read this story as a tale of what sentimentality can do to your work.  I’m sure you’ve been warned away by other writers.  Unsure of what we’re talking about, then study “Always Raining Somewhere, Said Jim Johnson.”


Aaron Riccio · January 25, 2011 at

>Thanks for linking me here; I didn't even recognize the character as being a stand-in for Wideman, but the whole "be wary of sentimentality (in lieu of a story)" angle is well worth repeating. There has to be something more. And I say this after just finding my second "100" rated story of the year, Preeta Samarasan's stunning "Birch Memorial" (A Public Space No. 6).

Tim · January 25, 2011 at

>I'll check out "Birch Memorial." I need to read more than what's in The New Yorker or Harper's.

Aaron Riccio · January 25, 2011 at

>At the very least, pick up "Best American Short Stories" and "The O. Henry Prize Stories" each year and use those to identify the literary magazines that actually publish stuff you like. I'm a fan of "A Public Space" because they make a point to publish a wider variety of fiction — not just multicultural, but experimental, post-modern, classic, often all in one issue. That sort of publishing gusto makes them very hit or miss, but at least they're filled with enough content to even out over the course of an issue.

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