Of Fiction and Faith: Twelve American Writers Talk About Their Vision and Work,edited by W. Dale Brown (Eerdmans, 269 pp.; $20, paper). Reviewed by John Wilson.

When George Plimpton and his friends at the Paris Review put the literary interview on the map in the 1950s, they did not invent the form, but they gave it definitive shape and a new prominence. In the decades since, the genre has grown to enormous proportions. It is not uncommon now to see a writer interviewed before her first book is published, and the big names submit to the ritual so often that you can buy entire books consisting of interviews with a single writer. (Walker Percy's fill two volumes.) The merest hint of an inside look at the creative process is unfailingly seductive, and the cult of celebrity is not limited to the realm of People and Entertainment Weekly.

Given this glut of recorded talk, a new book of literary interviews needs to persuade us pretty firmly of its reason to exist. Dale Brown's collection does so in two ways. First, as the title promises, these conversations all touch on the connection between fiction and faith. Brown, a professor of English at Calvin College, does not force such questions; they seem to grow naturally out of the talk, and the ways the 12 writers respond are quite various. Second, Brown has assembled an interesting cast, some regulars on the Christian literary circuit and others not. Doris Betts and Frederick Buechner, for instance, will be familiar to many ct readers, but perhaps Pulitzer Prize-winner Robert Olen Butler will not.

In a fascinating interview with Cheryl Forbes published in ct 20 years ago (Sept. 8, 1978, p. 15), the novelist Chaim Potok reaffirmed the modernist dogma that "serious" fiction is always in conflict with belief, for the writer's ultimate commitment must be only to his art. Read Brown's collection for another view.

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