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     Whether you call it creative nonfiction, literary journalism, or whatever else, this genre shares many of the narrative conventions of fiction.  Some works could be mistaken for fiction if you didn’t know better.  Creative nonfiction’s methods diverge less from those of fiction than they do from conventional nonfiction forms like documentary and journalism.  One work that influenced me particularly is Stephen Crane’s “The Open Boat.”  It reads like a short story, yet it comes directly from Crane's experience in a ten-foot dinghy after the steamer Commodore went down off the coast of Florida in 1897.
     Perhaps it’s a bent for empiricism, but I’m attracted to writers who begin as journalists, and I’m impressed by Crane, especially.  Concerning his approach to writing:
  I renounced the clever school in literature. . . . my chiefest desire was to write plainly and unmistakably so that all . . . might read and understand. . . . I endeavored to express myself in the simplest and most concise way. . . . I have been very careful not to let any theories or pet ideas creep into my work.  Preaching is fatal to art in literature.  I try to give the readers a slice out of life; and if there is any moral or lesson in it, I do not try to point it out.  I let the reader find it for himself. (qtd. in Kwiat 137-38)
 “The Open Boat” conveys to the reader worlds of perception, yet it makes no moral or ideological judgments; this account presumes no omniscience.  Instead we get lively, intelligent reportage, full of irony and pathos, yet without mawkishness.  The story proves also that the most wretched circumstances do not preclude humor.6  Rather than say the men felt vulnerable in their small craft, the narrator says instead, "Many a man ought to have a bath-tub larger than the boat which here rode upon the sea" (657).  His narrative vitality shines also in a passage like: “A singular disadvantage of the sea lies in the fact that after successfully surmounting one wave you discover that there is another behind it just as important and just as nervously anxious to do something effective in the way of swamping small boats” (657).7  Personification—“nervously anxious to do something”— helps animate the passage.  Crane avoids the possibly intrusive “I” by casting himself in the third person, “the correspondent,” yet he does not back off entirely from subjectivity: “the waves were most wrongfully and barbarously abrupt and tall”; and “the correspondent . . . wondered why he was there” (657).
     The story does not focus on one theme or another, but illuminates any number of issues: how reality can appear differently from different vantage points (this, several years before Einstein published on relativity), i.e., shore vs. boat; or from one time to another, such as before sighting land and people, and after that sighting does not result in rescue.   And of course the story illustrates nature's towering indifference.  The story is noteworthy, however, not primarily because of some clever proposition about humans and nature, but because of Crane’s style; because, for instance, he takes a sentiment like he felt utterly forsaken and resented it and makes it lyrical:
   When it occurs to a man that nature does not regard him as important, and that she feels she would not maim the universe by disposing of him, he at first wishes to throw bricks at the temple, and he hates deeply the fact that there are no bricks and no temples. Any visible expression of nature would surely be pelleted with his jeers.  Then, if there be no tangible thing to hoot he feels, perhaps, the desire to confront a personification and indulge in pleas, bowed to one knee, and with hands supplicant, saying: "Yes, but I love myself"
   A high cold star on a winter's night is the word he feels that she says to him. (Crane 666)
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     6 Crane brought an ironic and critical view to his news dispatches, as well, a tendency that put an end to his newspaper career.  From a news story about an Asbury Park, New Jersey, parade: “The bona fide Asbury Parker is a man to whom a dollar, when held close to the eye, often shuts out any impression he may have had that other people possess rights" (133).
     7  Likewise, in Great Plains, Ian Frazier elaborates on nuclear-missile silos dotting the prairie, each enclosed in an eight-foot-high cyclone fence: “In the lonesomest stretch of prairie, you could find no faster way of meeting people than rattling that fence for a moment or two” (200).  The image makes its point about missile security, and sticks tight to the theme of isolation on the prairie.
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