Literary Criticism and Significance

All Souls was a runner up for the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for fiction, but criticism for the novel has been mixed. Maud Casey of the New York Times Sunday Book Review calls the novel “a bold, sharp story about teenage girls, class and illness. . .” (Casey). The often unreliable opening page publisher blurbs use phrases such as “masterfully paced,” “superb...gorgeous, spare, perfectly crafted prose,” “...a revelation; a work of rare, fierce beauty.” The brief vignettes that author Christine Shutt uses to unfold her story are seen by the novel’s defenders as “impressionistic style” – writing that in its economy and sparseness creates a work that relies on “implications and quick leaps of association” rather than actual explication. Fans of the novel contend that the snapshots of characterization and plot that force readers to create their own insights are innovative.

Perhaps this style of writing appeals to the text-message generation. One almost expects the epigrammatic snippets of prose to end with “bff” or “lol”. The novel’s detractors point out that the vignettes are so brief that neither the characters nor the plot are fully developed, leaving the reader to zoom in and out of the characters’ psyches still hungry for more. Critic Janice Harayda in One Minute Book Reviews remarks that “Schutt sounds as though she’s always interrupting herself” and that her technique “makes for choppy reading” which “limits her ability to develop a rich and sustained narrative.”Harayda goes on to say that Shutt’s writing is “so elliptical and antiseptic that you don’t know whether it’s intended as satire, social realism or something else (Harayda). For example, teacher Anna Mazur is “constantly confusing the names of two black girls – ‘Do we look alike, Miss Mazur?’ The problem was the girls did look alike.” What is that supposed to mean? Is it a criticism or...

(The entire section is 578 words.)