Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Before the Terror

Just finished God of Small Things.  Wow.  How heartbreaking.

The style of Roy's prose took me a little bit to get into.  It's lush and lyrical, but the narrator is an interesting choice.  It's a 3rd person variable POV, sort of omniscient, but not.  In the sense that the narrator is present, like has a voice of his/her own, opinions, asks rhetorical questions, etc.  A third person unnamed narrator who somehow knows everything.  Reminds me of like, the voiceover people on, say, Desperate Housewives, if you know what I mean.  But once I got used to the unconventional prose of the book, I really began to get into it.

Another thing that interested me was how she used flashback.  I deal heavily with flashbacks in my own writing, so it was interesting how she wove the past and the present, moving around it with a fluidity but not in a specific pattern.  It wasn't sequential, and things openly referred to other events we hadn't yet encountered.  So going into it, you get a sense of what has happened, but not completely.  It's a bit confusing, but you go along with it, trusting she'll reveal what happened along the way.  In fact, it's the knowing that something terrible has happened that propels you forward.  And even once you know what's coming, the prose pushes you along.  Plus, it's a little like watching a trainwreck.  Horrifying, but you can't stop hurtling towards it.

I squirmed as the aunt showed herself to be a bitch and a half.  I hated her with a fury.  But what surprised me were the sudden tears that sprang to my eyes as I hit the part where we finally see in scene Estha pulling away in the train station.  It completely broke me apart.  I knew this was coming, so why did it effect me so?  I'm not sure.  Maybe because I finally had the full picture of what had happened, what childish guilt and misunderstanding had taken place, what kind of grief they were all holding in their hearts as they left each other.  Or maybe it was just being in scene.

The last chapter, beautiful.  I didn't expect it to end on this note, a flashback of one of the rare moments of happiness and joy and positive beauty in the book.  So much of the book is focused on the fallout of terror and unkindness, negative things.  But here is love, and it is fleeting and we know it's only a moment - thirteen days to be exact - but it is beautiful and perhaps makes it feel like it's worth it, for a second.  It's captured like a rare butterfly.  So I like that she chooses to end on it.  Unconventional, but ultimately, the perfect place to end.  Grief and all those other things are not easily remedied or resolved.  They don't go away.  But this fleeting moment of joy somehow feels like an adequate ending for a story that has no easy ending.

The idea of the different shaped holes in the Universe - a thought I've thought of people sometimes but never articulated.  Wonderful.

And also:

That first night, on the day that Sophie Mol came, Velutha watched his lover dress.  When she was ready she squatted facing him.  She touched him lightly with her fingers and left a trail of goosebumps on his skin.  Like flat chalk on a blackboard.  Like breeze in a paddyfield.  Like jet-streaks in a blue church sky.  He took her face in his hands and drew it towards his.  He closed his eyes and smelled her skin.  Ammu laughed.

Yes, Margaret, she thought.  We do it to each other too.

She kissed his closed eyes and stood up.  Velutha with his back against the mangosteen tree watched her walk away.

She had a dry rose in her hair.

She turned to say it once again: "Naaley."

--[pg. 321, God of Small Things]

One of the most perfect endings, ever.

Saturday, October 24, 2009


From God of Small Things (which I'm racing to get through in time for my class on Tuesday):

"D'you know what happens when you hurt people?" Ammu said.  "When you hurt people, they begin to love you less.  That's what careless words do.  They make people love you a little less."
--[pg. 107, God of Small Things]

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The sad priest

I finished The Power and the Glory today and loved it.  Going into this book, I wasn't sure what to expect.  I've never read any Greene before, and from just the back cover, I wasn't entirely sure if this was "my type" of book.  But of course, I try to read everything and anything, and so I went into this with an open mind, especially given that I was told to read it for a class, with an eye towards structure and the third person POV. 

Well, I loved it.

The priest was such a sad, sympathetic character to me.  So flawed in so many ways, but ultimately a redemptive person because he is so flawed.  The fact that he is torn up about his sins because he can't be absolved of them -- and the reason that he can't is because he loves the outcome of his mortal sin, his daughter - how can one not sympathize with that?  The way he brings down the difference of the love he should feel for all people vs. the real love he feels for his daughter.  He is so human, so nuanced, so complex in his guilt, in his pride, in the way he is trying to live with the way he has sinned.  There are so many questions that are raised, subtly, thoughout the book, and it's not one that is easily ponderable.  I'm amazed by Greene's ability to infuse this book with so much that is religious, existential, etc, without ever truly preaching.  His characters are not flat stereotypes, but are real people.  And like real people, there is no easy way to determine good or bad; instead there exist so many shades of gray.  Everyone does things that are not admirable, and yet at the end, it is hard to condemn anyone for what they have done.  Even the lieutenant, you get the feeling he's not a bad man, but is simply a man with a different take on what is good and right.

I had whole pages of this book tabbed for inclusion, but ultimately, I think it's futile to copy them all down.  It's hard to encompass the philosophical and moral questions that are raised without reading the whole thing I think.  But I'll put down these:

One mustn't have human affections - or rather one must love every soul as if it were one's own child.  The passion to protect must extend itself over a world - but he felt it tethered and aching like a hobbled animal to the tree trunk.
--[pg. 82-83, The Power and the Glory]

He wanted to say to this man, "Love is not wrong, but love should be happy and open - it is only wrong when it is secret, unhappy... It can be more unhappy than anything but the loss of God.  It is the loss of God.  You don't need a penance, my child, you have suffered quite enough," and to the other, "Lust is not the worst thing.  It is because any day, any time, lust may turn into love that we have to avoid it.  And when we love our sin then we are damned indeed."
-- [pg. 172, The Power and the Glory]

It ought to be possible for a man to be happy here, if he were not so tied to fear and suffering - unhappiness too can become a habit like piety.  Perhaps it was his duty to break it, his duty to discover peace.  He felt an immense envy of all those people who had confessed to him and had been absolved.  In six days, he told himself, in Las Casas, I too... But he couldn't believe that anyone anywhere would rid him of his heavy heart.  Even when he drank he felt bound to his sin by love.  It was easier to get rid of hate.
-- [pg. 173, The Power and the Glory]
The ending was inevitable, but so heartbreaking. 

That's all I want to say.  Read it.  You will not be disappointed.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

A little moment of tragedy

Reading a bit of The Power and the Glory before I head to sleep (yes, it is 5 am).  I'm not very far into it, but I was trying to finish up Chapter 4 before I went to bed.  This last scene before the next chapter came out of left field for me, in the sense that I hadn't expected it to affect me, but it completely did.  The priest, who is running away from execution/persecution, comes across a very poor village, a community of huts and people who have nothing but the clothes on their backs.  The poor priest is incredibly tired, and wants to sleep, but these people haven't seen a priest in 5 years given the outlawing of the Church, and want to say their confessions.  The old man who has offered the priest a place to stay keeps talking to the priest about saying Mass and hearing out confessions, despite the fact that the priest is weary and on the run and hungry and exhausted.  Finally, the priest sits up, and angrily agrees to hear out confession.  When the old man is done, he asks if he can get the women too:

"Oh, let them come.  Let them all come," the priest cried angrily.  "I am your servant."  He put his hand over his eyes and began to weep.  The old man opened the door: it was not completely dark under the enormous arc of starry ill-lit sky.  He went across to the women's huts and knocked.  "Come," he said.  "You must say your confessions.  It is only polite to the father."  They wailed at him that they were tired... the morning would do.  "Would you insult him?" he said.  "What do you think he has come here for?  He is a very holy father.  There he is in my hut now weeping for our sins."  He hustled them out; one by one they picked their way across the clearing towards the hut, and the old man set off down the path towards the river to take the place of the boy who watched the ford for soldiers.
--[pg. 45, The Power and the Glory, Graham Greene]

I completely did not see this quiet moment of tragedy coming.  It is so sad, this poor priest who is bone-tired, bitter at his lot, and yet still rises to do his duties; this community of people so desperate to see a priest.  All these tired tired people, crashing into each other, despairing, and trying to hold on to something... The moment is so nuanced yet complex, and it leaves me wondering how I can ever create something like that in my own writing.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Reread: Remains of the Day is even more awesome than I remember it being

Quick thoughts:

I re-read Remains of the Day for class this week.  Long time followers will remember I read this book about two years ago, shortly after I started this blog.  At the time I really enjoyed it, but I don't think my taste was nearly as "sophisticated" as it is now, which is weird, because it was only a few years ago.  But in the sense that I remember thinking back then that I was bored at parts, and I didn't really care about politics or butlering or any of that other stuff.  I think I was reading it for plot at the time, and therefore felt it moved slow sometimes.  And as much as I did appreciate that it had literary value, I don't think I got it as fully as I do now.  Strangely enough, this time I read through it, it was such a fast read and completely compelling from beginning to end.  I couldn't put it down, even though I'd read it before.  It was like I was reading it for the first time!  I read it really carefully this time, but it didn't even feel like it was at all slow.  Everything was so interesting to me, from the way it was crafted, to his unreliable narrator (and maybe it made a difference that I knew this time that he was unreliable?), to the way he shifted in memory, and just seeing the little hints Ishiguro placed about his unreliability.

I find it really strange, but I guess I've actually become a BETTER READER in two years' time?  But I loved the book more than I did the first time around.  Maybe because I can appreciate it from a writers' perspective, but maybe also because I've matured as a reader.  In any case, I just thought it was worth noting that I have new found appreciation, and in fact, was fairly blown away by this second read.

Author Stalking: Nicole Krauss and Michael Chabon

Last week, I happened to be able to catch two authors I admire very much give craft talks: Nicole Krauss and Michael Chabon.

Nicole Krauss
I went to hear Nicole Krauss first, at the New School.  She read a bit from both History of Love and her current work in progress.  Anyone who has been following this blog long enough (or knows me personally) knows that I've had this fascination with Nicole (and secretly want the authorial power marriage she and JSF share).  The first and only other time I've heard her read, I was so nervous, she had to hold out her hand and touch my arm, telling me it was okay.  It has something to do with the fact that when I read History of Love, I felt like it was the book I wanted to write.  It had the essence of something that felt very... me, for lack of a better word.  In any case, when I heard her at New School, this feeling was only further reaffirmed. 

Nicole has this aura about her, that I can't adequately explain.  She's obviously a very internal person.  She speaks in such a soothing tone, I can't imagine she has trouble getting her kids into bed at night.  She uses the word "perhaps" instead of "maybe" and she's very thoughtful and measured when she speaks.  There's something incredibly calm and affirmed about her, and she's clearly a very intelligent person.  She talks neither too slowly or too fast.  I don't know.  Maybe it's also a measure of grace. 

But what really struck me were the things she was saying when she was speaking about the craft.  She said that she never really came up with a plan, that what she was going for, more than anything, was a mood.  I think this really resonated with me, because that's generally how I like to write too.  I like to capture a mood, and that's probably why I do my best writing at night, or when I'm feeling something in particular.  She said she'd rifle through books, looking for things that could help her attain or keep the mood she was looking for, and I completely understood that as well.  I've read certain short stories or passages of books (including hers) to put me in the right mindset before I write.  I also liked how she talked about the fact that sometimes, she would just put things in and write about it, without really know why or what it meant, and then later it would work, in fact it would mean everything.  Some writers are measured and planned, but she completely opens herself to surprises.  I love that about her, because I feel like that's why her book felt so authentic to me. 

It was a short hour, but it left me really trusting in her, because from everything she was saying, her process is very similar to mine, or at least the way we are as writers.  I've tried to become more structured over time, because I think it might help, but her instinct, and the things she says she does, it totally resonated with me.  And left me wanting to be her best friend, because I feel like somehow, she might really understand me.  Maybe that's weird, and presumptuous, but I really really appreciated everything she said, not just as a different point of view, but because I felt she was speaking to and about me.  Weird.

Michael Chabon
I had never heard Michael Chabon prior to this, though because Moonrat is a fangirl, I knew I was in for something fantastic.  I've enjoyed the two books of his that I've read, and I know he is a masterful wordsmith.
In any case, I went up to Columbia University to hear him speak.  He read an essay about Edgar Allen Poe, a long piece that came in 5 parts and took him about 80 minutes to read.  But to his credit, despite the fact that it was long, I was never bored.  And that's a hard feat, especially when it's non-fic.  He was so interesting, so funny, so witty, and his words, as always, left me in awe.  In fact, I just sat there, wondering to myself how one person could come up with such interesting, fresh phrases, how he could use these words to so much advantage.  It was seriously breathtaking.  The essay was about Poe, and so he read some of Poe's poetry, and it was actually interesting, because you could see that he was influenced by Poe too.

To be honest, Michael Chabon was so impressive in person (helped greatly along by his scruffy good looks, gravelly voice, and entertaining reading skills), that I fell in love a little bit.  Ha!  But really, I thought to myself how much more I appreciated his writing, having heard him in person.  He is so incredibly thoughtful, intelligent and witty, and I still can't get over his amazing ability with words.  That was obvious in reading his writing, but I think it struck me even more when he was reading them outloud to us.

In the Q&A that followed, I think he had some interesting things to say about researching books and how it excites him, as well as how one knows when to abandon a book.  Strange to be able to see a man like that talk about the fact that he had one failed book.  You think of your heroes as invincible, I guess, and someone like him as being able to churn out gold every single time, not as someone who struggles hard the way we do too.

Afterwards, I was sorry I hadn't brought my book to be signed.  I would have liked to have shaken hands with him and told him in person how incredibly in awe of him I am.  I'm sure he hears it all the time, but one can never be praised too much, right?  Not in this thankless job, anyway...

Two great author events that make me SO GLAD to be back in the city... :)

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Book launch!

I have some posts forthcoming about my recent stalking of Nicole Krauss and Michael Chabon.  But in the meanwhile, I wanted to just take a moment to announce that my good friend and YA author Matt de la Pena's third book We Were Here has hit bookstores today.  I haven't read it yet, but it's his pride and joy, and has gotten some awesome reviews.  It's about a boy who breaks out of a home with several friends, in a journey of self-discovery.  Matt's writing tends to be urban and edgy, while still lyrical and poetic, and is a great option for boys in a YA category littered with "girl" books about vampire romances and high school drama.  Matt keeps it real, and I'm sure this book does too.  Buy it!!!!!!