Johns Hopkins has the reputation for an excellent Creative Writing program and one of its major assets was the writer Stephen Dixon. Dixon was nominated two times for the National Book Award, first for his early novel Frog and later for Interstate. I mention this because it serves to frame my experience with Dixon.
Back in the ’90s I read my first Dixon piece, Interstate. I hated it. If you look back through my early postings it was prominent on my “Worst” list and remains there to this day, even though my opinion has changed considerably. Interstate is not the type of novel that Forster describes: even though you might find the appearance of a plot, or of characters, the narrative structure subordinates all those normal novelistic things and takes over the novel. Dixon tells a simple story of a father driving along with his daughter when another automobile creates a dangerous interaction on the road, a gun is brandished, a tragedy occurs or is about to occur … and then the father is driving along the road with his daughter but the circumstances are slightly different and when the second car arrives …
That’s the book: a short narrative, altered slightly and repeated over and over. Maybe I wasn’t in the mood to have my literature-brain poked and nudged at that time because I remember hating this novel and agonizing my way to the last page. But for some strange reason, I read more works by this author and he rapidly won me over. I could see the value of the experimentation Dixon displayed in Interstate: variations on a theme being more common in music but why not in writing too?