"All of which is to say that the novel, as a form, is about freedom. Historically, it's a form that grew while the dream of freedom grew, and is declining as the dream of freedom declines. Our era is every day more baffled and exhausted by the sense of possibility that the novel, in its very form, champions. Since a novel can go anywhere on any page, the form itself is permeated by the essential question that a novelist must ask every waking day: Just how free am I? Just what can I imagine, and can I make it work? Just how far will I tempt destiny on this particular date?
"A nation obsessed with health benefits and safety in the streets is weary of such questions. But that's not really so new. As an all but forgotten American novelist, William Dean Howells, once put it: 'What the American public always wants is a tragedy with a happy ending.' Or at least: an orderly ending. But that's not what you'll find in Henry James' A Beast in the Jungle or D.H. Lawrence's Women in Love. Instead, you'll find that, as James put it, every life is 'a special problem' with 'a terrible algebra' of its own. That is the only conclusion, if you want to call it that, that the concept of freedom ultimately supplies.
"Those obsessed novelists, solitary and difficult though they be, stake their lives upon the freedom and scope of their imaginations. No matter what their novels overtly say, their demand is that readers do the same. The form itself begs you, when you close the book, to live a life that is as much your own as that poor, pigheaded, passion-soaked writer's. In this sense, every novel that truly honors the form is a dare and a question. Even if it stays on the shelf unread, even if it's never published and rots in a drawer, every novel says that your imagination (the most tangible fruit of your soul) is the most alive and free part of you, and asks: What are you going to do about that?" Michael Ventura in Rants on the Writing of Novels (4 11, 1997)
I couldn't have said it better myself.
Happy Fourth of July to the United States!