Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Peace Like a River, and trying to learn how to write

For as long as I can remember, I have been an avid reader and, as often follows, I have wanted to be a writer. And I am a the sense that I sit down and write nearly every day and I've had some small successes (which I celebrate like I've just won the Pullitzer). Everyone says that to become a writer, you should read--widely and voraciously. And this is excellent advice. But for me, I find myself terribly wrapped up in the story, no longer able to pay attention to how the thing got done. I just love books so much! When I was in the midst of hating my short story collection but not knowing what the heck to do with it, someone gave me the very sound advice to take apart a short story I've read before (this is key to the not-getting-wrapped-up bit). Look at descriptions, scene, how plot moves along, etc, etc. I have always been a good student, and I like a project, so I did this exercise with four or five stories and found it immensly helpful. So, I decided to try it with the novel. Why not? I chose Leif Enger's "Peace Like a River" because I loved it once. And, oh, I loved it again. I had to force myself to pay attention to the structure, the voice, the pace...I took notes, made an outline, wrote summaries as needed. And still I felt myself pulled into this story of family, miracles, the old-fashioned feel of a great adventure--it's a great book and I highly recommend it...even if you aren't trying to learn how to write from it!

Spell check isn't working tonight and I'm not near a dictionary...I hope this isn't too terrible...

Monday, August 13, 2012

We Need to Talk About Kevin

To say that I am reluctant to recommend Lionel Shriver's We Need to Talk About Kevin is a vast understatement. Don't get me wrong, I loved this book. But, it is not for the faint of heart and I think it takes a certain kind of reader, someone not afraid to plumb the depths of not-kind humanity.

I don't think I've ever read anything so profoundly disturbing for its "honesty"--a truth told by a narrator who is not, despite what she has been through, likable. Or even necessarily forgivable. The novel is told through a series of letters written by a mother to her husband after their son has killed several of his classmates. Throughout, she tries to make sense of where she went wrong but yet, at the same time, her voice sizzles with anger. I had a hard time feeling sorry for Eva, which made the story all the more compelling for me. Too rich, too sure of herself, too focused on her work--she is prickly in a way that makes her heartbreakingly human.  

Not an easy read, this is the first book in a very long time that has literally given me nightmares. And I don't even have children! So, you've been warned. But let me say also that this is a book that takes a haunting look at the small things we do, the lies we tell ourselves, the ways in which we get by. I will not soon forget it.