There are two kinds of taste in the appreciation of imaginative literature: the taste for emotions of surprise and the taste for emotions of recognition.
* "Anthony Trollope," Century Magazine (July 1883)
I have sitting on my bedside table two books: Richard Russo's new one (Bridge of Sighs) and Ann Patchett's new one (Run).
Patchett's book begins
Bernadette had been dead two weeks when her sisters showed up in Doyle's living room asking for the statue back. They had no legal claim to it, of course, she never would have thought of leaving it to them, but the statue had been in their family for four generations, passing down a maternal line from mother to daughter, and it was their intention to hold with tradition. Bernadette had no daughters.
Aren't you intrigued, immediately? Who is Doyle? Who is Bernadette? How did she die? Why wouldn't she will the statue to her sisters? Did Doyle give the sisters the statue? If so, which sister got it? What is the significance that Bernadette had no daughters, outside of the issue of the statue?
I love a great opening, and Patchett's books always hold up to the promise of her beginnings. She manages plot, characters, and beginnings, middles and ends (Andrea will know of what I speak here---as we have confessed to the same geeky collection of writing and editing books) so deftly it is almost enough to cause me to quit offending the art of writing by doing it myself.
Patchett won't hold my hand or coddle me with neatly tied up answers in this book, I'm sure. She'll surprise me with ambiguity and complexity, and bond me to the characters and stories through moments of shocked recognition.
I suspect the simple last line of the opening, "Bernadette had no daughters," will be a keystone to the story.
Russo's book begins
First, the facts.
My name is Louis Charles Lynch. I am sixty years old, and for nearly forty of those years I've been a devoted if not terribly exciting husband to the same lovely woman, as well as a doting father to Owen, our son, who is now himself a grown, married man. He and his wife are childless and likely, alas, to so remain. Earlier in my marriage it appeared we'd be blessed with a daughter, but a car accident when my wife was in her fourth month caused her to miscarry. That was a long time ago, but Sarah still thinks about the child and so do I.
Those are some facts; they open such a can of worms, I imagine. Russo is, in my opinion, almost Shakespearian in his formula for his books. In Shakespeare what begins cohesively almost always unravels into pieces, with a very human resilience pulling pieces back together into a shape again, albeit usually a new one. Russo masterfully employs this technique, too.
His characters are invariably at a turning point; either their life or personal drive is shifting, or they are caught in a sea of shifting within others. Turning points are usually very contagious, I find.
I'm intrigued to discover whether our character Louis is about to turn, or if he is going to be caught in someone else's turn. Children are clearly very important to Louis; I wonder what the situation with Owen is. I can tell a lot about Louis from the simple order of his facts, none of which are actually very straightforward at all; he uses too many adjectives.
I just finished Nick Hornby's Slam, which, told from the point of view of a very practical minded teen boy, does include very straight-forward lists of facts and information. It's extremely black and white, because teenagers are not terribly skillful about shades of gray. Yet.
But adults, especially Russo adults, are.
The contrast in voice between the youthful Hornby character and the older Russo character should be interesting.
However, I haven't begun either book, yet. I am waiting for the uninterrupted time, the non-multitask time, because I know these two authors will drag me in to the story so completely that I will be snappish and short-tempered to anyone who dares pull me back to my reality in any way.
I got these books as gifts, and the rest of the gift I want is the time to read them, in total.
For now I'll keep plugging through the latest Jasper Fforde, which is choppy enough to easily be broken into short segments for the snatches of time I grab to read. It's full of fantastic quotes I keep thinking I ought to put in the blog, all on their own, because they are that good. Plus, great fodder for theoretical discussion. Fforde reached deep and rediscovered his intense cleverness with this book. Thank goodness.
(I'm trying to make time to review Slam and Thursday Next.)
Tell me about books and reading...
For example...What are you reading? Who are your favorite authors that you grab to read every time they publish something? How do you read? Do you gobble the books up right away or save them like a secret treat? Do you need to read cover to cover, or can you easily set a favorite down?
Copyright 2007 Julie Pippert
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