Category Archives: Book reviews

Reasons to Read The Little Friend

I don’t know about you, but nothing inspires me to write more than reading a wonderful novel or story. And after reading Donna Tartt’s book, I couldn’t stop thinking about craft.

A good friend, who recommended the book to me, did me the favor of telling me the ending before I ever picked up the book. Her intent wasn’t to “spoil” the book for me, but a warning not to read it like a mystery novel. All of the criticism of the book I’ve read comes from readers who didn’t enter the book with this mindset, so I’ll pass this information on to you: in the end, you won’t know who the murderer was. Yes, the little girl sets out to solve the murder, but what she learns is so much more interesting.

Here would be my top three reasons for reading this book:

1. The language is both precise and gorgeous. The author’s use of modifiers is so perfect, you’ll want to go try on some adverbs when you’re finished, all those writing manuals be damned.

2. If you’ve ever struggled to understand Dramatica concepts, especially the main character’s unique ability, you’ll see a perfect example here. (I don’t know if this was intentional in the author’s part, but when I read it, it was an “ah-ha” moment for me.)

3. She makes the “villain” (one of them, anyway) so human and vulnerable, that the reader wants him to make good choices, understands when he doesn’t, and hopes his punishment isn’t too harsh.

I’m sure you can think of more reasons to read this book. You are welcome to post them!

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The plague years

Journals of the Plague Years: Narrative Disorientation in
Jose Saramago’s Blindness
Cormac McCarthy’s The Road
Stewart O’Nan’s A Prayer for the Dying

How does an author convey the disorientation suffered by the victims of a plague of blindness?  He can’t tell it straight; it would be like observing a children’s game of blind man’s buff: comical, absurd, bodies bump into each other in the white light of their affliction.  To carry the reader into the fog of Blindness, Saramago ties on blindfolds, throws up stylistic obstacles to be tripped over, forces the reader to grope in the darkness for comprehension, and offers an eyewitness to interpret the experience.

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When to use second person

There are only a handful of reasons for any author to use second person, among them:

  • in instructions, where the reader is told what to do, step by step.  Readers readily acquiesce to such commands because they want and need to know how to use their microwaves or set the time on their DVD players.
  • in letters, where the level of intimacy is such that the reader, addressed directly, enters a predetermined relationship.
  • in reflection, where the narrator, looking back, speaks of his own past in a kind of encompassing universal.
  • in mental illness, where the “you” is dissociative. The persona has separated from the “I” to achieve distance from his actions, thoughts, or memories.  Such second person narrative is risky. When asked to take a narrative journey with a dissociative personality, readers throw up barriers: they will not willingly perform acts outside their own codes of morality.

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