Sometimes when I'm reading I just want a good story. If the writing is passable that's all I need because I'm just there for the story. It's kind of like watching Law and Order-- I have a cousin who gets on me because it's not realistic. (She's an ADA so she knows.) "I don't care," I tell her. "I just want to know who did it." Sometimes it's like that with a book-- I don't care about the writing. I just want to know what happens-- that's what has me turning pages.
But sometimes it's about the writing, and the story isn't the driving force. While I'm engaged in what's happening, I'm more in awe of what the writer is capable of. It's like watching Cirque on the Oscars the other night-- to witness that kind of ability is pretty amazing and more than a little inspiring. So today I'm going to share a few recent books that have been that for me:
The Weird Sisters: I love Eleanor Brown. She can write. The Weird Sisters is a book about sisters and how birth order dictates our place in the family-- but also our place in the world, to an extent. When three sisters return home ("We came home because we were failures.") to help care for their mother who has cancer, they find themselves reverting to who they were, but also striving to break out of those roles-- to redefine themselves beyond who their family says they are. The Weird Sisters isn't a book where a lot happens per se. Not on the outside. But a lot of change is going on inside these three sisters. If you're a person who likes really strong writing, I recommend savoring this book for two reasons-- this is a book where the author took her time to write it. It never once feels rushed or hurried. And also the use of the interesting "We" narrator-- it is the sisters, plural, telling the story. While it's been done before, it hasn't been done much and Eleanor did a great job pulling off this unique point of view.
Alice Bliss: I loved Alice. I loved her pluck. I loved her outlook. I loved her resilience. I loved how she survived even when her world was coming apart. If you've ever been a teenage girl, you will identify with Alice. Laura Harrington is another author who worked to make this book good. She's not just there to spit out a story. She's there to show what a well-written book can elicit in its reader. Each character was real and memorable, developed to the point that I felt I knew them. Like Eleanor's book, Alice Bliss didn't feel rushed. I could tell Laura Harrington worked to choose the right word, to make each sentence pack all the punch possible. Again this story is less about what happens and more about how the characters are changed by what happens. A novel about a young girl whose father is deployed, and how she and her mother and sister cope with his absence and the fears of letting him go, I dare you to read this novel and not be moved by Alice, and by Laura's talent.
The Arrivals: There are lines from this novel I still think of. I loved the writing, how the tension in the house seems to hum along the lines of prose. A story about empty nesters who, through several different turns of events, end up with all their adult children back home for a summer, this was another novel where not much happens. They're all just sort of existing in this house, dealing with their stuff, as they learn to live together again. But again, it's the writing that powers this novel. You're not there to turn pages quickly. You're there to read and to think, to be those characters in that situation-- father, mother, daughter, wife, husband, daughter in law. You're there to decide what you would do if it were you. Because that's what the best fiction does-- it engages you to such a degree that you become that character. That's you in that struggle, you making that decision, you feeling that doubt.
I recommend all of these novels to anyone who's looking for strong writing. It's fun to see writers flex their muscles on the page. That's what you'll get with these.