Charles Baxter’s new collection of essays, Wonderlands, joins his other works of nonfiction, Burning Down the House and The Art of Subtext. In the mold of those books, Baxter shares years of wisdom and reflection on what makes fiction work, including essays that were first given as craft talks at the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference.
The essays here range from brilliant thinking on the nature of wonderlands in the fiction of Haruki Murakami and other fabulist writers, to how request moments function in a story. Baxter is equally at home tackling a thorny matter such as charisma (which intersects with political figures like the disastrous forty-fifth US president) as he is bringing new interest to subjects such as list-making in fiction.
Amid these craft essays, an interlude of two personal essays—the story of a horrifying car crash and an introspective “letter to a young poet”—add to the intimate nature of the book. The final essay reflects on a lifetime of writing, and closes with a memorable image of Baxter as a boy, waiting at the window for a parent who never arrives and filling that absence with stories. Wonderlands will stand alongside Baxter’s prior work as an insightful and lasting work of criticism.