It looks like I might be narrowing down my target for ‘how I want my story to work’ by noticing what I don’t like about how some other stories are put together. Several blog posts have expressed frustration about typical tension-creating devices, such as fear for one’s life. So I investigated in the other direction–a book called The Folded Earth, by Anuradha Roy, an ‘evocative and deeply moving tale of a young woman making a new life for herself amid the foothills of the Himalaya’. Expecting a forward-looking desire to pull the story, rather than a backward-looking fear to push it, I was disappointed to find the narrative drive almost so subtle as to be practically hidden. Elegant descriptions of place-as-character and of well-drawn people I am unlikely to meet in my daily travels sufficed to keep me reading, but I am enough of a plot-snob that I would give this story pretty weak marks in that category (of course, I am not a highly-trained critic, either, and since The Folded Earth was longlisted for the 2011 Man Asian Literary Prize, don’t just take my word on this).
I took particular offense that nothing actually resulted from the point of most violence, which readers are led to feel has great portent. Impending catastrophe managed to be avoided off-stage, by the amorphous larger community, in the passive voice. Our characters don’t have much to do with actively resolving the civil strife that the moment of violence supposedly foreshadowed. My frustration could easily be a cultural thing, or partly that I’m still watching closely the learnable craft points that seem to be given short shrift here. Quite likely more literary readers are perfectly comfortable with the required amount of suspended disbelief in order to slip past a number of plotting inconsistencies. The backcover blurb, after all, indicates that someone considers this a masterpiece.