Ron Hansen is all over the lot. He writes novels, of course, and essays, screenplays, short stories, children’s books, and reviews. He teaches at California’s Santa Clara University. He makes speeches. His readers are often surprised that the same Ron Hansen who wrote Mariette in Ecstasy in 1991 also wrote, in 1983, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. He ranges from the controversial story Hitler’s Niece in 1999 to the light comedy Isn’t It Romantic? in 2003. His 1996 novel Atticus is a masterpiece of one sort; Nebraska is a masterpiece of another.
The key word from phase to phase in Hansen’s career seems to be “surprise.” He likes to experiment with different genres, various kinds of stories, and narrative styles. Such eclecticism makes him difficult to categorize, and he probably takes considerable pleasure in the dilemma critics face when they approach his many offerings.
In A Stay Against Confusion: Essays on Faith and Fiction, a collection of writings published in 2001, Hansen speaks complexly of the attempt to write from a position of faith. A practicing Catholic, Hansen believes that “faith-inspired fiction squarely faces the imponderables of life.” To be truthful, he says, religious fiction must include irreligion. Like any artist worth the trouble, Hansen deals in the fearfulness and joy of day-to-day life, but his eyes seem always to be focused on how we encounter God in the mundane. He writes of miracle without much regard for markets or literary fashion. And it has worked.