Tuesday, May 05, 2009


Trust is an weirdly important part of my relationship with a book. On an inanely literal level, that seems ironic when you're talking about fiction--I mean, they're lying to you, kid, that's what they do. But one of the problems with bad writing is that, once you realize that the author isn't going to be filling in all those inconvenient holes (inconsistencies, confusing bits, knowledge gaps), you start seeing every little problem coming from a mile away. When you trust an author to make it all work out, you often don't even notice these problems.

Real life is like that. When something unlikely happens, you don't assume that reality is coming apart. If you found a fish lying in the middle of your driveway, you would not assume that the end of the world was upon us, or that reality had ceased to make sense (I guess you might, but I wouldn't). You would assume that your neighbor's dog stole someone's dinner off the table and dropped it in your yard for some reason. Or that a teenager was vandalizing the neighborhood by throwing fish out of his car window. Maybe you couldn't even come up with an explanation, but you wouldn't doubt the fabric of reality based on this one misplaced fish.

If you trust an author, you can have that same experience--you believe there's an explanation, even if you don't know it yet. In a bad book, though, the possibility exists that no one's going to explain that fish very well. If a bad author needs a fish in your driveway, he'll put one there and not bother to give you an explanation. Or he'll give you one that you can't swallow (teenagers throwing fish out of their car windows is far more believable in real life than in fiction).

I'm reading a book right now, The Compass of the Soul, which is a sequel to something I read a few weeks ago, Beneath the Vaulted Hills. They really should not have been split into two books; because the first one did such a poor job standing on its own, I had come to completely distrust the author. Just this morning, though, one of the characters pointed out what I had considered to be a big hole--why on Earth is this other character following us on these life-threatening adventures? That whole "curiosity" thing is wearing pretty thin.

Seriously, this has changed my whole outlook on this book. Because there was no hint of skepticism about his motivations in the first book, I had assumed that I was supposed to buy the whole thing hook line and sinker. Now that someone's asked the question, a) I have a bunch of theories that I can't wait to develop (Brenda: I suspect RC is in league with the deacon!), and b) I now have a feeling that certain other things that seemed to be leading somewhere might actually be leading somewhere. And now I'm excited to find out.

So let this be a lesson: sequels are not the same as volumes of the same book. If I'm going to have to read the whole thing, I need to know that from the beginning!

No comments: