Sunday, May 25, 2008

More Books

One Writer's Beginnings by Eudora Welty
College students get exposed to Eudora Welty fairly early, and probably often. Her short stories "Why I Live at the P.O." and "A Worn Path" are required by law to be included in every anthology published in America, and for good reason. They're great short stories, and Welty's skill is evident to even a beginning reader.

I picked this book out of a box of giveaways in one of the offices in Mankato, but just got around to it a few weeks ago. I'd never seen any nonfiction by Welty, and this seemed like a good source of insight on writing. As it turns out, it is and it isn't. Welty makes a number of connections between events in her life and how she became a writer, and that's interesting. Welty's life, and the lives of her relatives, are not very interesting, though. The events that shaped her as a writer aren't compelling--just mundane everyday things that she turned her curiosity and perception on. It's Welty's memory, detail selection, and insight that make her writing interesting. This book serves to remind me that while some writers are made, some are just born. Welty was one of those.

Punish the Sinners by John Saul
I guess there's not a whole lot to say about this book. John Saul is a fine writer, and he certainly understands the convention of a horror novel, but this one didn't do much for me. It follows a predictable pattern, the horror isn't very horrifying, and the nature of the danger in this story strikes me as hokey, maybe because of the conflict between faith and reason throughout, and maybe especially because science's representative in this story is psychology, which in my mind is about as scientific as astrology.

The net effect of reading this book is I'm wondering if this genre means anything to me anymore. I have a shelf full of Dean Koontz, Clive Barker, Robert McCammon, Thomas Tryon, Dan Simmons, Saul, and of course Stephen King. My intention has been to read everything before I get rid of it, but I may just dump all of these. I won't feel deprived without them.

Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane
When we read Lehane's Mystic River in Terry Davis's Form and Technique class, Terry kept returning to Lehane's use of physical detail. He used words like "relentless" to describe the physical elements of the story. That's my lasting impression of Mystic River, but I've always wondered whether that was because it was my impression of the book or because Terry Jedi-mind-tricked me into believing that. Terry's passion for story can do that sometimes.

I wasn't thinking of Mystic River when I started reading Shutter Island, but within about ten pages I was thinking, "Holy crap, this story is almost tactile, there's so much detail." Then I remembered Mystic River and Terry and Form and Technique, and I knew Terry hadn't Obi-Wanned me. Lehane packs his fiction with concrete detail, and so even though it's genre work there's some craft to take from it. The story itself has some surprises, and the characters are amusing and charming, but in the end the value of Shutter Island is in the details.

Wyrd Sisters by Terry Pratchett

It's Pratchett, so it's fun. This book is even pretty smart, mixing in elements from Shakespeare's work (primarily Hamlet, MacBeth, and Richard III). While the story is enjoyable, it has some problems I don't normally notice with Pratchett. It lacks focus much of the time, it's largely predictable, and there isn't much in the way of development. Maybe the focus problem stems from the protagonists being a group of three. Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg, and Magrat are the three witches of the title, but it's the actions of Granny and Magrat that really drive the story--more precisely, it's the tension between the two. Maybe the Shakespeare element is what makes the story somewhat predictable, and that isn't a terrible problem anyway, since nobody I know reads Pratchett for revelation through plot. What struck me most about this was that the characters are so static. There are some superficial changes in the Fool, and maybe to a lesser degree in Magrat, but for the most part the characters are in the end who they were in the beginning. Again, not a deal-breaker, because Pratchett is just fun to experience, but some of his other novels (Small Gods, anyone?) are greater accomplishments.


=Tamar said...

Always check the copyright date: Wyrd Sisters is one of Pratchett's earlier books. The witches take turns developing through the series.

Jason said...

Developing through a series is great, but if there's no development within each story the stories themselves are rendered a bit pointless.

But, like I said--it's Pratchett, so it doesn't really matter.