W. G. Sebald’s Emigrants was the first novel to show Alison how forward momentum can be created by way of pattern, rather than the traditional arc. Drawing on work by Nicholson Baker, Gabriel García Márquez, Clarice Lispector, and more, Meander, Spiral, Explode is an exploration of story structure and craft.
Alison is in a lightly transgressive space, in which chatting about your own sexual pleasure is as unremarkable as mapping a metaphor, and in which the two things are highly relevant to each other ... One quibble is that the book’s thesis, that literature is boringly in thrall to Aristotle, is a bit of a straw man. Another quibble is that Alison is working at a level of abstraction that insures she can apply almost any shape to almost any text. These vulnerabilities are not lethal—a house-of-cards constructedness is a feature of a lot of literary criticism. What matters is the ingenuity and beauty of the construction, and Alison’s close readings can be exhilarating ... Meander, Spiral, Explode is a deeply wacky book, in ways that are both obvious and subtle. Alison cuts extraneous words for breathless effect ... [Alison's] verbal raptures may ensorcell seventh graders and leave older readers occasionally feeling that they need to lie down. But the fecundity of Alison’s writing is of a piece with her larger mission: to turn narrative theory into a supersaturated mindfuck of hedonistic extravaganza. It is a special kind of literary criticism that can make the reader appear to herself a prune, or a prude ... Her book takes the shape of a roller coaster.
Who knew literary criticism could be so much fun? ... Alison (Nine Island) offers a well-stocked 'museum of specimens,' from the work of writers both widely known (Philip Roth, Raymond Carver and W.G. Sebald, one of her favorites) and less so (Marie Redonnet and Murray Bail). She meticulously but briskly unearths an impressive body of evidence to support her argument ... Alison's gift for close reading brings to mind fellow novelist and critic Francine Prose's Reading Like a Writer, and her enthusiasm for this literary archeology project is infectious ... Meander, Spiral, Explode is a joyous celebration of literature's robust shape-shifting qualities.
In this wholly original analysis of style, novelist Alison (Nine Island, 2016) explores the forms and shapes that narrative can take, pushing the bounds of storytelling beyond the infamous pyramid of climax ... Her observations of the sensory aspects of literature are indulgent and delectable, and sure to elevate the experience of readers and writers alike.