Thursday, January 07, 2010

Almost Like Being in Love

That's what I'm now reading, that sweet, funny love story Wave so highly recommended. I was sucked in by it at first. I laughed frequently; sometimes I wanted to cry. Then twenty years passed between chapters -- blammy! -- and the heroes, now a continent apart, were all grown up and involved in their respective lives and careers.

That wasn't a problem for me at first. Passages of time exist in most novels. Temporary estrangement of the central couple is also common. Still, as I read on, I started getting just a teensy bit irked and impatient. With the heroes apart, the author started dishing up too much clever-and-amusing just for the sake of clever-and-amusing. Every character that was introduced was clever-and-amusing.

I also realized I was getting bored with the baseball fetish and the lawyer-related stuff, and that without any significant plot involving the book's original couple, the entire narrative was being carried on the back of clever-and-amusing. Only ... the narrative didn't seem to be going anywhere.

Is that it? I wondered. Is too-much-of-a-good-thing dampening this reading experience for me?

Out of curiosity, I went to Amazon to check out other readers' reactions. The book was almost universally praised, but there were a few sniffy souls who gave it a 1. A freakin' 1. (I wasn't thoroughly surprised; there are grumblers everywhere, and they're often self-righteous types who take themselves WAY too seriously because they've had their sense of humor surgically removed.) But I perused their comments anyway, hoping to get a fix on my own small undercurrent of disaffection.

Sure enough, these negative "reviews" were generally hightoned and dry and pretty much beyond my comprehension, as if these people and I had read two entirely different books. But one of them did say something that struck a chord: there's no differentiation among the characters' voices.

Yup, that was it. Or part of it. A sudden plethora of players, all of whom have the same voice: the protagonists, their male and female friends, their gay and straight friends, their lovers, students, coworkers, parents, even a young boy. They all, and I mean ALL, were dipping from the same witty, educated voice-pot. I wouldn't have been able to tell them apart if the author hadn't made it obvious whose words I was reading.

What's more, their droll observations and snappy repartee had been substituted for any kind of storyline. The book just stalled out in the middle. The cast of characters bumbled around in a Three Stooges kind of way, saying and doing zany things. As much as I love humor, it started getting on my nerves.

Don't get me wrong. I'm still engaged by this book and still eagerly anticipating the reunion of the protags. If there's an HEA buzzkill, though, I'll be rip-roaringly pissed off.

I almost always learn something from the novels and stories I read, either through positive or negative example. In addition to providing me with hours of entertainment, Almost Like Being in Love has been an eye-opener, another object lesson in the craft of fiction.


Jeanne Barrack said...

Very interesting post, KZ.
I do know that it's just about impossible for me to turn off my writer's mindset now when I read.

K. Z. Snow said...

Same here, Jeanne. And it doesn't help that I studied literature for nine years and then went on to two editorial jobs.

But y'know, that makes a great book all the more enjoyable when it comes along. I really look forward to the occasional gem and am genuinely euphoric when I find it.

Tam said...

"I studied literature"

I swear I live in some kind of freaky universe because my darlin' friend Craig just did a post today about "What is literature?" and how we definie it. Ooooooooh. *twilight zone*

I have not read said book because it didn't really appeal to me so can't comment. I thought it did have a HEA but I'm not certain. I hope so for your sake.

K. Z. Snow said...

I hope it does too, Tam. It's quite a funny book, actually -- the kind that should have a happy ending. So I'll be disgruntled if the HEA is pulled out from under me.

What constitutes literature? I quit thinking about that as soon as I left graduate school. Seriously. I began gobbling up popular fiction and nonfiction as if they were antidotes to some disease.

Jeanne Barrack said...

When I finished grad school I made a vow not to read any nonfiction or textbooks for at least ten years.
I used to come back from lunch break and a walk to the library and baffle the young guys (20yos to my 30 years) with the stack of books. To them, reading meant homework. Who read for pleasure?

wordveri: cuthall
What these guys probably did during school

Chris said...

And some of the stuff we now hail as Literahture (iz not typo) was popular fic back in its day...

It's rare that I can turn off the editor in my head. I have a lot more luck turning off the rhetorical analysis, fortunately.

K. Z. Snow said...

Yes it was, Chris. And much of the fiction that was scorned or virtually ignored in its day is now considered great.

K. Z. Snow said...

Textbooks -- yes ugh, Jeanne. I've since used them for occasional reference, but that's it. However, there've been works for laymen similar to textbooks that I've devoured: astronomy, history, biography. I think it was Carl Sagan's Cosmos that got me started on nonacademic nonfiction.