Roth and Amsterdam

I used to think that fiction is about making up stories, but in recent years I’ve decided that fiction is really more of a method of telling true stories. One thing fiction allows you to do is explore what-if scenarios. I recently read two books that made me think about this: The Counterlife by Philip Roth and Things We Didn’t See Coming by Steven Amsterdam. Both books are explicitly about contingencies and possibilities: Roth’s tells a sequence of related but contradictory stories involving his Philip Roth-like (of course) protagonist, and Amsterdam’s is based on an alternative present/future. (I picture Amsterdam’s book as being set in Australia, but maybe I’m just imagining this based on my knowledge that the book was written and published in that country.) I found both books fascinating, partly because of the characters’ voices but especially because they both seemed to exemplify George Box’s dictum that to understand a system you have to perturb it.

So, yes, literature and statistics are fundamentally intertwined (as Dick De Veaux has also said, but for slightly different reasons).

1 thought on “Roth and Amsterdam

  1. David Lodge’s collection of essays, <a href="; rel="nofollow"> Consciousness and the Novel <a href="; rel="nofollow">(review) explores some of these topics: novels being a way to model consciousness. One of the essays in book is on Philip Roth.

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