(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The narrator of “Life-Story” says that his greatest desire is to be “unself-conscious” as a writer. The irony is that his every comment, including this initial one, points to exactly the opposite. He worries in an acutely conscious way, for example, that his story contains no “ground situation” (a coherent, trenchant plot and conflict), and he agonizes over a prose style that he fears is “fashionably solipsistic” and unoriginal. What is even more frustrating to the narrator is that his artistic impulses are directly contradictory; he prefers “straight-forward tales of adventure” to the “experimental, self-despising, or overtly metaphysical characters of Samuel Beckett’s or Jorge Borges’s,” but he can muster only self-conscious, solipsistic stories in which the story’s artistic processes are conspicuous and cumbersome—such as in the “theatre of absurdity, black humor or allegory.” He thus prefers, like his wife and adolescent daughters, real life to literature, and he reads only for entertainment. He concludes that the medium in which he desires to write is “moribund if not already dead . . . along with society.”

He even suggests that his increasing preoccupation or obsession with pattern and design for their own sakes is a manifestation of schizophrenia. Later, one of his literary characters, whom the reader can see is merely a replica of the narrator (a writer writing a story about a writer writing a story), worries that he can produce no stories of “passion and bravura action,” detailing further the traditional elements of fiction that seem to elude him, such as “heroes they can admire, heroines they can love, memorable speeches, colorful accessory characters, and poetical language.” At one point, the writer in the narrator’s story asks gloomily, “Why must writers choose to write such stuff (self-conscious introspection) when life is so full of people and places and situations to write about?”

The narrator then begins to develop his proposition that his own life might be a fiction in which he is the leading character, whereupon he decides to write about just such a phenomenon. In a sense he makes this proposition...

(The entire section is 896 words.)