Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Chapter Book Entry: Patchett

(images from Amazon)

Our library has a wonderful system for borrowing new books. On a kiosk, at the front, they set out a selection of new or nearly new books by popular authors. They're called "bestsellers-to-go" and you can take them out for one week (as opposed to the usual three) and you can only take out one of them at a time. You cannot request them, (though there are usually other copies of the book available for request--if you don't mind being #52 (or more) in line) and the late fee is steep. $1/day if you're late returning it.

The best thing about bestsellers to go is the kiosk. Looking at it and perusing the books there feels just like being in a favourite bookstore. And it's free. And that is how I found Ann Patchett.

It was a memoir, actually. I had thought it was a fictionalized memoir. When I discovered it wasn't, about 1/3 of the way through, I couldn't go on. I was willing to suspend my disbelief and read about the splendid, deep, passionate platonic love of friendship, but I wasn't willing to believe it had all been real; the splendid, deep, passionate platonic love for a friend. If it had been real, it would have been too painful to lose, and too painful to read about. So, I haven't finished Truth and Beauty. The author's words were too powerful.

But I did read Run: at a breakneck pace, if you'll pardon the pun. That's one of the ways I know I like an author. If I can't put the book down, then I know that for me, the author is a keeper. (Mystery authors can be exempt from this criterion, per se. P.D. James writes page turners, but they are usually awfully long-winded page turners. Still, I enjoy her policeman, AD. The husband finds her work depressing and won't read it.)

I had to return Run today, so I haven't got any passages on hand to quote and reflect upon. But, I also read Taft and when I closed it last night for the last time, it was with regret.

I'm not sure what it is about her writing that so captivates me and holds me hostage to sleep for two to three nights in a row. Reading her is like dreaming--one floats on the words and forms real but still misty landscapes. People move and talk, things happen but not like in a real dream, without reason or connection. No, things happen naturally, irrefutably -- just like real life. It was just about here, without any warning, that I realised things were going to go terribly wrong:

I watched the two of them go up the street. Wallace watched me watch them. I turned around and put a heavy hand on his shoulder. "This is a big night for me. You learning to do the money. Pretty soon we might be making you a manager or something."
"I wouldn't mind that, " Wallace said. "I've been in the market for a career."
"A smart man like you Wallace. You can come up with a better career than this."

Wallace, you have to understand, is no threat. But reading this I had a horrible premonition something was going to go wrong. And it did (but I won't say what). When did Patchett set me up? When did she hook me? Probably with every word of the previous 210 pages.

Having read the two works back to back, it was interesting to reflect upon their similarities. Both books end with a denouement. Both end with the character who drives each novel wanting to be watched.


Does Patchett have something to say about people who want to be watched? (And don't we all, just a little bit, have fantasies of being noticed? remarked upon? Well, this is blog world, of course we do.) Or, do people who want to be watched drive things, make things happen because of this desire?

What happens if there's no watcher? What happens if there is and you don't know it, don't want it and find out there is? This sounds creepy, but Patchett isn't. Nor are her characters.

I wonder if her other books are the same--or if these two just happen to deal with the same things?
--parents and their children
--Blacks and Whites living/interacting together
--a sympathetic and tough older male
--boys working themselves out against their fathers
--losing dreams and regaining them
--working out one's identity to oneself within the confines of one's personal past and one's relationships with others.

Taft is Patchett's second novel and it seems like it. It's broader in scope, bigger more devastating things happen than in Run which is tightly focused and wound up tight like a spring. There's also a maturity in the understanding of people and their relationships to one another that just isn't there in Taft. Still, that's no criticsm of Taft. If I hadn't read Run, I wouldn't have noticed. It just feels like Patchett has figured out she doesn't need a large looming canvas for her story (not that it's all that large in Taft): it can be teeny tiny with every line of the characters brilliantly and clearly drawn. It reminds me of some of the single line drawings by Picasso like this one (and which I have always loved. I think I even have it somewhere):

(Isn't that amazing?)

There's nothing remarkable about her writing style. In his book, On Writing, Stephen King says that's how writing ought to be. Quiet and still. It shouldn't call attention to itself. And Patchett's doesn't. It's smooth--like the ice-cold water in the pint glass I carry up to bed every night. And I'm the ice cube slowly melting into it. I float in it, become enveloped by it. Her words and my brain meld, become one. Seriously. It feels crazy to say stuff like this, but it truly is an incredible experience.


scb said...

Wow. That was gooood. Your writing, your assessment of Patchett...

I haven't read the ones you've talked about (but I must look for them, surely the library has them, because I know the local bookstore hasn't...) I've read one book by Patchett, and it definitely drew me in, and surprised me, and left me wanting more. "Bel Canto" was the title. About an opera singer, and so much more.

Alana in Canada said...

That means a lot coming from you scb. Thanks.

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