Tuesday, May 15, 2012

A Writer for Writers

One of the disadvantages of building a library almost exclusively from thrift store finds and free ebooks is I don’t often find books by the authors I’m really curious to read. Yes, I could resolve that problem simply by buying new books (that would certainly make the authors and publishers happy and I certainly hope the same happens when I publish), but I’m a poor slob. So I was pretty excited when I saw a Lois Lowry hardback on sale this weekend for $2 at a thrift store. Messenger is the third in I guess what is being called the “Giver” trilogy.

I loved The Giver. I’ve got a weak spot for dystopia and to read one in which many progressive ideals (rather than conservative stasis) is skewered is a treat. (Not that I’m overly conservative or anti-progressive; I happen to sag quite happily in the middle.) Messenger hits a nice, middle-of-the-road tone that I find quite striking.

Lowry’s style impresses as always. I’m intrigued at her ability to bring in the mundane to a story to help it jump off the page. She’s there with vivid imagery and great characters and brisk plotting, but it’s the little details she adds that make her stories go so far.
“I remember all the fish, the feeling that they would never end. I felt that I could drop my line in again and again and again and there would always be fish. Now there aren’t. But, Leader . . .”
Leader looked at him and waited.

“Things seem more when you’re little. They seem bigger, and distances seem father. The first time I came here through Forest? The journey seemed forever.”

“It does take days, Matty, from where you started.”

“Yes, I know. It still takes days. But now it doesn’t seem as far or as long. Because I’m older, and bigger, and I’ve gone back and forth again and again, and I know the way, and Im’ not scared. So it seems shorter.”

Leader chuckled. “And the fish?”

"Well,” Matty acknowledged, “there don’t seem to be as many. But maybe it’s just that I was a little boy back then, when the fish seemed endless.”
This exchange has little to do with the plot or story, but it helps set character – and that’s what counts almost as much as the story itself. I try to emulate this in my own writing, with mixed results.

What I appreciate the most about Lowry is that she takes a fresh approach – or at least a fresh, spare writing style, to an old fantasy meme. This kind of getting-what-we-wish-for is a common staple of fantasy writers, and I love it when it’s handled well. Lowry handles hers subtly, leaving the reader in the dark but offering enough hints that the astute reader can generally figure things out and still be pleasantly surprised that he or she is right. And I don’t mind when authors handle this kind of device overtly; Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes, with the hall of mirrors and the merry-go-round handle the meme with a blunt overtness that swiftly carries you along for the ride.

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