Is it because I can actually see the end of my own story coming at me, and I’m drawing out my time in High Piney? It isn’t like I don’t have tons of work and more drafts to play with. Maybe it is just some insecurity about the story–will it really serve an interest for others? Is my craft up to my topic, up to my vision?
And so, on a gray and snowy long weekend, I stack up the library books for reading, rather than writing. What can I learn from what is being published, about the reading interests of people other than myself? What can I learn from other characters in similar situations–what about their responses move me the most? Where do their actions ring false? Where might I be missing a scene where emotional intensity might count more than simply moving the plot forward? How has the author handled the story’s theme–blatantly or subtly, boldly or awkwardly?
Here’s a few of my responses to books in the pile.
Tom Franklin’s Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter is another library book club selection that I might not have picked up myself, but I did suggest we get something of interest to guys, so that might have influenced our leader. As a murder mystery, I found some plot parts a bit weak or sometimes even askew, but in the end, that mattered little, because the story really was more about the relationship between a community’s (innocent) white outcast and the black cop who turns out to be his half-brother. So the murder mystery almost feels like a cheap plot device to keep men reading, which I hope is an underestimation of their interests. Danger does keep the pages turning though, and the descriptions of the auto shop thrum with authenticity.
In general, I tend to shy away from violence as a plot driver, and I wanted to see how others pull it off. Greg Kincaid’s Christmas with Tucker and Ron Koertge’s Strays were two examples I found. While the first deals with a young man’s coming of age in 1962’s rural Kansas, and the second is set in modern L.A., they both keep danger on the outskirts, allowing the protagonists to make wise choices in avoidance. The dilemma of how they might make their way forward under suddenly changed circumstances was sufficient to keep my curiosity going. Why? Because the narrators’ voices gave us their vulnerability, without turning maudlin, and invited us along as they sought the skills they needed to keep going. Both of these stories also highlight the strong possible connection between people and animals, another place where men are allowed to share their sensitive side even in today’s hyper-macho social environment. Hopefully that can play out stronger yet with horses than with dogs–even though they’ll be less familiar to many readers, the size, speed and power of horses all seem to hold potential attraction.
The final one for this post is the first book of the Caretaker Trilogy by David Klass, called Firestorm. While this reaches into the fantastical future by bringing it back into today’s world, the author uses the classic unwitting superhero model in showing readers the super-threats of their very own age. Environmental destruction in its many guises is the threat that led to the Turning Point, and the close-up of life on a bottom trawler fishing ship was a well-chosen example from the many possibilities the author could use. Unlike most superhero stories of good versus evil, this story depicts the way that small acts, not evil in themselves, can lead to outcomes that allow evil to flourish in the long-term. While danger and [not too graphic] violence are of course, part of this narrative, and keep its pace on the run, it seems a helpful balance for the dense themes of environmental stewardship. Those themes are delivered, for the most part, by two characters from the future–a large dog who communicates telepathically and a sexy Ninja chick–which makes them seem more palatable in many ways. Interesting. I might want to read the end of the series, just because.