From the Reader's Guide interview published in the Kindle edition of "A Widow for One Year:"
In terms of understanding the effect of my novels, I learn much more from the letters readers write to me than I do from book reviews. You don't read a book the way a reader reads a book when you know you're going to write about it. I know -- I've been a reviewer, too, after all."Emotionally inscrutable" is a notion obviously closely related to several versions of the hip and the cool; the roots of which Greil Marcus finds in the "deadpan" tone that defines a lot of American culture. Although "Widow" has three major characters who are novelists, with sections ot eh their work interpolated, Irving is not arch or arms-length enough to qualify as a post-modern writer. But he definitely wants the pipes and girders of his story-building to be a visible part of the experience, and he's not above waving and pointing if he thinks there's a chance we'll miss them. ("A John Irving novel is not subtle," he says.) Not po-mo, then, but perhaps a literary adaptation of the architectural style known as Structural Expressionism, which puts its beams and wiring in plain sight.
HG: You are often accused of being a sentimentalist…
JI: I've already defined the word by admitting that it is my intention, as a novelist, to move you to laughter and tears, and that I use the language to persuade you emotionally, not intellectually. In Great Expectations, Dickens wrote: "Heaven knows we need never be ashamed of our tears, for they are rain upon the blinding dust of earth, overlaying our hard hearts." But we are ashamed of our tears. We live at a time when critical taste tells us that to be soft-hearted is akin to doltishness; we're so influenced by the junk on television and in the movies that even in reacting against it we overreact -- we conclude that any attempt to move an audience to laughter and tears is shameless crowd-pleasing, is akin to sitcom or soap opera or melodrama.
To the modern critic, when a writer risks being sentimental, the writer is already guilty. But, for a writer, it is craven to so fear sentimentality that one avoids it altogether. To be emotionally inscrutable has become a predictable fingerprint of the "literary" author. I wouldn't want to be married to someone who was C. Who would ever want to be in a relationship like that? Well, I don't want a novelist to be emotionally inscrutable, either. In a novel, sentimental risks are essential; concealing one's emotions is a form of political correctness, which is a kind of cowardice.
Modernism in literature upholds the theory that a novel can be a patternless mess (without a plot) because real life is like that. Well, good novels, in my view, are better made than real life. ... Great stories are constructed -- they have a structure.
Also occurs to me that the controversial innovations in criticism in the 1970s (Kael, Marcus) were partly aimed at persuding critics to be readers (or moviegoers) first.
And of course we also spurn arms-length and/or emotionally inscrutable music.