Uncategorized | February 24, 2004

Tobias Wolff’s new novel, Old School, includes a fictionalized portrayal of poet Robert Frost, who comes to the protagonist’s boarding school as a visiting writer. Wolff’s decision to include Frost in the novel stemmed from the real-life incident of Frost visiting Wolff’s school when he was a boy. (See William Bradley’s interview with Wolff in TMR’s current issue.) The inclusion of a real-life individual in a work of fiction made me think of other novels that bring real-life people—in particular, famous and quirky people—into the author’s made-up world. Immediately coming to mind are E. L. Doctorow’s portrayal of Harry Houdini in Ragtime, and Neal Stephenson’s comic presentation of Albert Einstein in his novel Cryptonomicon. Does the inclusion of “real people” in novels add to the work’s illusion of reality, or detract from it? I wonder if others have favorite instances of real people walking onto the pages of a novel…