Cover

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pp. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. 2-7

Contents

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pp. 8-9

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Preface

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pp. ix-xiv

...Anyone who has read much serious American fiction published since around 1970 has surely struggled with novels that seem designed not to give readers pleasure. Not only do writers scream in your ear, but they do the mental equivalent of pissing on your shoes, holding a knife to your throat, or spouting nuclear physics at you as well. A surprising amount of the...

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Acknowledgments

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pp. xv-xvi

...A version of chapter 1, on narrative speed, appeared in somewhat different form as “Narrative Speed in Contemporary Fiction,” Narrative 13.2 (2005): 105–24, with a follow-up, “Speed, Rhythm, Movement: A Dialogue on K. Hume’s Article ‘Narrative Speed,’ ” with Jan Baetens, Narrative 14.3 (2006): 349–55. Copyright (2005) The Ohio State University. Reproduced...

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Introduction: The Author-Reader Contract

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pp. 1-13

...Wordsworth could startle his readers by writing about a leech-gatherer; how could such a person or activity qualify for aesthetic appreciation? Faulkner trampled even more forcefully on reader expectations when The Sound and the Fury commenced with an idiot’s version of events. Both works are now canonical. The same conversion will happen for many of...

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1. Narrative Speed in Contemporary Fiction

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pp. 14-39

...Many contemporary novels subject their readers to a breathless sense that the events are hurtling by too fast for real understanding. Scenes and focal figures change quickly, and helpful transitions are missing. The resultant feeling of excessive rapidity is what I mean by narrative speed, and for many readers, this speed produces frustration and serious discomfiture...

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2. Modalities of Complaint

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pp. 40-76

...As we try to come closer to being ideal readers of novels characterized by narrative speed, we learn to relax, to stop wanting to be in control. We attempt to open ourselves to the exhilaration of the rush. When we read complaints, that tactic will not work, because complaint does not produce exhilaration. We need other reasons to open ourselves to these irritating ...

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3. Conjugations of the Grotesque

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pp. 77-114

...In The Place of Dead Roads, William S. Burroughs describes the sex life of the lophiform angler fish: “During intercourse the male gets attached to the body of the female and is slowly absorbed until only the testicles remain protruding from the female body.” Simply as natural history, this is not grotesque, merely unusual and non-mammalian; I note with...

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4. Violence

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pp. 115-140

...In the context of fiction that repels readers, a chapter titled “Violence” might concern horror fiction. Genre horror in fiction and film does indeed exploit physical and sexual violence, and some readers or viewers are horrified and even terrified. Overall, though, genre horror is extremely popular: in four years, the first five films of the Saw franchise grossed over...

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5. Attacking the Reader’s Ontological Assumptions

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pp. 141-163

...Having seen in the last three chapters tactics designed to arouse unpleasant emotions, we turn now to attacks aimed at our intellect, our sense of what is real. To function efficiently, we rely on a set of beliefs about the nature of reality. These ontological assumptions provide stability as we deal with day-to-day living. They govern our responses to sights, sounds, and events...

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Conclusion: Why Read Aggressive Fictions?

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pp. 164-172

...This book explores an aspect of recent fiction that criticism has ignored. Many of these novels were not designed to please readers, and the questions raised by that practice have not been recognized, let alone answered. Without claiming a unified field theory to explain fiction that attacks readers, I have sought answers to a number of these questions. How do...

Notes

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pp. 173-184

Bibliography

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pp. 185-194

Index

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pp. 195-200