Re: RARA-AVIS: Thoughts and Shots

Bob Toomey (
Mon, 27 Dec 1999 22:09:22 -0500

Mark Sullivan wrote:

> I'll grant you that Hemingway's "aim of achievement" was higher. Which
> brings up the always intriguing and probably never answerable question:
> Which is better a fully realized work of limited goals or a flawed
> masterpiece? I've never been able to come up with a consistent scale
> even for myself, much less generalizable to others. I seem to always
> answer it on a case-by-case basis.

Hmmm -- Jane Austen's PRIDE AND PREJUDICE is a fully realized work of limited goals that is also a masterpiece. So is Hammett's THE MALTESE FALCON, and P.G. Wodehouse's UNCLE FRED IN THE SPRINGTIME. Why are these things incompatible? It's true that some masterpieces, such as HUCKLEBERRY FINN and CATCH-22, are deeply flawed, but the flaws hardly matter. Beyond that, there are any number of books that are neither fully realized nor masterpieces, but I love them anyway: THE BIG SLEEP, THE NIGHT OF THE JABBERWOCK, RED HARVEST, etc. Sometimes I'm just not up to dealing with a masterpiece. Sometimes I just want to pass a few idle hours with a writer whose simple, limited goal is to entertain me.


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