Monday, November 19, 2007

Liminal Period

I'm in an in-between time, right now. I finished Joan through an act of intense focus, and I returned a bunch of materials to the BPL system today. I have three books to return to Medford, but there's a part of me that's hoping my reserve book, Ha'penny, will come in before I have to go return these. Ha'penny is by Jo Walton; unsurprisingly, it's a sequel to her novel Farthing, a murder mystery set on a manor estate in an alternate 1940s England, in which America never entered WWII, and Hitler rules all of Europe. It's extremely intelligent and well-written, and I recommend it highly and am anxious to read the sequel.

But for some reason, I keep not coming up on the reserve list. The Minuteman website is unclear about a lot of the details of reserves--they'll tell you how many reserves there are total, but not where you appear in the queue. They're also either irregular or just uninformative about whether the book is in transit on its way to you; until it shows up in my account, I have no reason to believe it's coming. It also doesn't tell you when other people's books are due, which Boston does. In so many ways, Minuteman is not nearly as fulfilling as Boston.

But anyway, I now have only six books outstanding--which is to say, checked out and yet to read. I won't bother listing them; you've seen my lists before. But I'm halfway through The Position, by Meg Wolitzer, which is so well written that I forgive her, I really do, deep in my heart, for the fact that nothing really happens. You have to be pretty awesome for me to forgive you for that. So far, anyway, (slightly more than halfway through), the book is a series of character studies of the members of this family--two parents, four adult children, and now the girlfriend of one of the adult children. There are various plot points--the younger son has cancer, the older son is depressed, the younger daughter is rootless, the parents, now divorced, are at odds about the reissuing of a book they co-authored many years before. But these things are not the point of the book.

It's a traditional article of literary faith that change is the point of any story. I've even heard different forms of fiction defined by their relationship with change--that a novella is unlike a novel in that change takes place over the course of a novel, while a novella is a leadup to a moment of change that takes place at the end or is implied to take place after the ending. If it's true, I believe this is either a weak point or a challenge for a novella-ist (if such a thing exists). Because a story needs, if nothing else, motion. This doesn't always mean character change, but it does always mean some kind of change. Think about mysteries--your favorite recurring detectives don't usually change. Neither does Bertie Wooster. But stories like that make up for it by being packed to the rafters with other kinds of motion. If you're not writing a mystery or a farce or an action-thriller, if you're writing literary fiction, chances are that a big part of the motion of your story is going to come with your characters' development--not just on the page, but in their lives.

Meg Wolitzer is one of the few writers whom I consider "literary" and who I enjoy. I just prefer genre, I think, mostly because a good genre story is wearing two hats--anything it "has to say about life" has to share the stage with a story--a series of events that take place in a way that is rational and, on some level, worth reading about. It sounds like a bigger juggling act than just saying what you have to say about life, but in so many ways it seems like it must be easier to me. I mean, if you have a story that you feel like you want to tell, chances are the reason you want to tell it is because it speaks to you of something greater than itself. And chances are it will say the same things to me. I guess I'm saying that meaning follows a good story. I hope nobody sits down to write a novel about loss, and then broods over what character might have lost something, and what he might be missing.

I think I might be babbling. I've definitely gotten off topic, which was originally how I can't read just one book at a time, and so need to pick something else up besides The Position, and which book should that be? Probably The Full Cupboard of Life, because that will be an easy breezy read. So, liminal period concluded--now back to your regularly scheduled blog.

No comments: