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Tag: fiction (page 2 of 5)

reading elizabeth strout’s olive kitteridge

For my fiction writing class this semester, I selected the 2009 Pulitzer-Prize-winning novel in stories Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout. I hadn’t read it prior to the class (as I sometimes like to read a book for the first time along with my students), but I quickly found myself immersed in the lives of the people in Crosby, Maine, each and every one touched by one oft-misunderstood woman Olive Kitteridge; Olive is a large, loud, generally abrasive women who upon first meeting is sure to rub you the wrong way with her incisive candor. After the first chapter, told from her husband’s point of view, I found little to like about Mrs. Kitteridge. However, once I was privy to her point of view, things began to change (as might be expected). Like in life, if we are given the chance (or take the chance) to see through another person’s eyes, we just might identify with that person–or at least be slower to judge. By that second story, I empathized with Olive. Clearly Strout had yet to reveal all there was to know about her heroine. Before long, I truly admired Olive for her strength, her unflinching honesty, her quiet compassion, and her wisdom. I know that I won’t soon forget her. I highly recommend this book.

reading the road by cormac mccarthy

The RoadI’ve been reading McCarthy’s novel The Road for the past few days while on vacation. I’m about halfway through at this point and am not quite sure yet what I think. A friend of mine recommended it. I’ve never read any of McCarthy’s work before, but after getting the recommendation from my friend and really enjoying the film No Country for Old Men, based on another book by McCarthy by that same title, I figured why not. The book is far from uplifting and I’m not sure what I think of McCarthy’s writing style. While he is an acclaimed and accomplished writer, I’m not sure if it appeals to my sensibilities. Just the same, I am enjoying it enough to suspend judgment until I reach the end. It’s an intriguing, albeit depressing (and maybe somewhat overdone), story of a post-apocalyptic dystopia where father and son find themselves journeying across an ash-laden, dead or dying landscape, rife with hidden dangers of roaming, cannibalistic outlaws. (It’s got that Mad Max kind of feel but without the muscle cars.) The real hope I hold for the story is with the relationship between father and son as they push their shopping cart (a far cry from a muscle car) down the road bound for the coast. The dystopian backdrop seems cliché in my mind, but I hope the character development sets this novel apart from the genre. I’ll let you know when I’m done.

Update: 8/8/2009
I finished reading The Road weeks ago while on the road, so to speak, during our family vacation. By far the road I traveled was far less barren and bleak than the one from McCarthy’s book (except maybe for the time spent moving through Nebraska). Upon finishing the book, I was left–well–somewhat indifferent, I guess. I wasn’t particularly satisfied as a reader, nor was I regretful for having read the book. I needed some time to process it.

After a few days of haunting reflection, I wasn’t quite convinced that McCarthy departed far enough from the dystopian/post-apocalyptic genre of storytelling he uses in The Road. At the same time, though, I continued to be intrigued by his manner of telling the story, by his word craft. McCarthy provides a stunning example of form matching function in this book, albeit a little on the nose at times. The text is riddled with fragmented sentences, broken thoughts, unexpected shifts in point-of-view, and missing pieces–apostrophes, for example, dropped away from words like screws shaken loose from machinery and long forgotten. McCarthy is too accomplished and too talented for this to be mere sloppy writing. The words on the page match the disheveled world the characters occupy.

The story unfolds in one long unending chapter with no breaks, no pauses, no respite; the reader grows weary of this much like the characters grow weary of the road. It’s repetitive. The motion of the text is the same again and again: searching, walking, searching–waiting for something to happen, for a discovery, for a momentary rise in the plot in the hopes that it will build to something, but the occasional flicker of life is fleeting, vanishing as quickly as it appears, leaving only the empty road again to walk down. Towards the end of the text the only change or turning point in the story we can hope for is the character’s death, indeed, it is the only way off the road. The end did not surprise me. I was expected; I knew what was coming as most certainly did the characters themselves. But strangely, it did not disappoint me in its starkness, in its predictability.

This was definitely not a “feel good” book, and it takes a little reflection to appreciate–at least it did for me. In the end, this book left its mark on me (as unpleasant as it was). I’m glad I decided to walk down the road even if I won’t soon return.

personal belief about fiction

My fiction writing students just recorded personal essays ( “This I Believe”-style) regarding what they believe to be true about their craft as storytellers. This is part of a project I’ve been running for the past couple years called “This I Know” (I know a shameless rip-off of the better known NPR series.) Many of the essays were really good this time. It’s interesting to me that, despite the paces I put them through this semester, many reported that this final essay was the most difficult piece for them to complete. I think it might be because they cared most about it. Please visit the site, listen to an essay or two, and leave a comment. I know they would appreciate it. Thanks.

Find these essays along with those from past semesters at writing101.net/thisiknow. Tell your friends.

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