West and Grand

Book Review: A Muse and a Maze

In what the English would call a “busman’s holiday” (meaning: bus drivers who take a bus trip on their day off) when I am not writing, my favorite books to read are books about writing. The book about writing that I am most excited about right now is Peter Turchi’s A Muse and A Maze (Trinity University Press). Turchi is a fiction writer, a teacher of writing, and a master of puzzles and mysteries, and there are few puzzles or mysterious more bedeviling than the writing of fiction and poetry.

A Muse and A Maze offers sharp insights into the craft of writing, illuminating the process of puzzle-making and mystery-building that makes reading novels so absorbing and rewarding. The best ones can’t be put down, in the same way that I can’t break away from the New York Times crossword puzzle once it’s started. Before there was binge watching, there was binge-puzzling.

What Turchi communicates so beautifully is the fundamental mystery of living that art seeks to reveal, which is more useful to readers than a simple solution. Neat solutions don’t occur in our own lives, and in literature they fail to ring with truth. Puzzles, says Turchi, beg for solutions, but mysteries invite reflection. “Our wariness of neat solutions, our desire to grapple with deeper mysteries, is what draws us to serious fiction.”

A Muse and A Maze is a book for writers, readers, and even Sudoku fanatics. As Turchi says, “Dwelling is not the same as standing still. Emily Dickenson didn’t simply stare out the window all day.” Emily Dickenson was the Michael Phelps of staring out the window, and from it she produced some of the finest poetry the world has ever seen. We should all stare out of windows more often, and spend less time staring into screens. What was Dickenson looking at besides nature? She was staring into the nature of existence.

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