A quick shout-out for this marvelous little bestseller. It isn't meant to be a guide for writers trying to learn the art of fiction, but a critical review of the things that make a piece of fiction do its job. Still, this literateur manque found it to be more enlightening than a number of fiction-writing books by more successful novelists. The paradox is that the critic can sometimes be more precise in his description of an art form than the artist herself might be in describing what she does.
Wood boils the art of fiction, by which he means close third-person realism, down to its essences -- point of view, detail, dialogue, language, etc. -- and explains how each of these elements does its job. It's an engaging read. It's also lively. Wood takes issue with Forster's distinction between flat and round characters (although I don't think his supplanting distinction between clear and opaque characters is that much more helpful), and makes a few points that may leave light bruises on the reputations of John Updike and William Gass.
The criticism might be that Wood defines the art too narrowly. What about metafiction? What about inventive narrative forms? But Wood is only choosing one type of fiction, which also happens to be the classic form, to limit his discussion. He's conducting a class that might be called Fiction 101, or Fiction for Dummies, and this reader, anyway, happily took note of every word.