So you want to be a writer? Don't read this book.
Alone With All That Could Happen is a wonderful, well thought out collection of essays on fiction writing, but it is not a “how to” guide or a simple refresher course. It is more akin to a work of philosophy than a primer for the contemporary author. It asks tough questions about the constraints modern writers have put on themselves and explores in depth alternatives to the “conventional wisdom.”
As someone who has been writing fiction for half my life, acquired undergraduate and graduate degrees in writing, and spent the last three years crafting my novel, I, at times, felt overwhelmed by Jauss' insight and brilliance on the subject. Had I read this three or four years ago, I think I would've been lost. For the most part, I get it. Or, at the very least, I think I do. A few years from now I may pick this book up again and I'll realize how stupid I was. That's what makes reading books like Alone With All That Could Happen such a wonderful experience—no matter how may times I read it, I feel I could walk away with some new knowledge.
Personally, I got the most out of the first few essays. Largely, I attribute this to the fact that they were the most relevant to my writing and my work in progress at the moment. Or perhaps my mind had hit overload by midpoint. Nevertheless, I expect that if I do return to this collection in future years, I'll have much to learn from the essays I took less away from this time.
If you're a writer and you've been around the block for more than a few years, check it out. I can almost promise you you'll learn something. But if you're still learning the craft, still discovering yourself as a writer, give it some time—Alone With All... will likely leave you bored, frustrated, and scratching your head, wondering when it all became so complicated. Oddly, what Jauss teaches here is simplification of the craft, but the audience he is addressing needs to be taught that some of what they know to be gospel is really flam. The result is a book of essays dense with ideas and overflowing with examples. Highly recommended for all writers of fiction... eventually.