Friday, March 8, 2013

A Scalpel Won't Do

I've been listening to an audiobook in my car, San Miguel by T. C. Boyle.  It's set on a small, fictional island off the coast of California.  The closest city is Santa Barbara.  The first two-thirds of the story take place in the late 1800s and focus on a woman and her adopted daughter who, against their wishes, move to this small island where there are none of the comforts of civilization.  There's an outhouse, no indoor plumbing, and few protections against the elements.  The woman suffers from consumption, and the girl struggles with being a teenager, far from peers or any excitement.  The last third of the book jumps forward in time, to the 1930s, as two young newlyweds become caretakers of the island.  The island has modernized, somewhat, and they're thrilled to be on their own.

The writing is good, the characters are interesting, but throughout the narrative I find myself surprised that the story doesn't go deeper.  That plots are neatly resolved.  That minor conflicts don't carry over from one chapter to the next.  I still have a couple of discs left, so I may be surprised still, but right now I judge it as a good story, not a great novel.

That's a bit harsh.  But so much of what I read, now, I analyze what works and what doesn't in order to apply what I learn to my own work.  In revisions, I'm up to the clunky last third of my book.  I say "clunky" because, rereading it, the story feels forced, and the descriptions redundant.  Maybe it's not horrible for a person writing her first novel, but it's not great.  With all my procrastination and with all my distractions the past couple of months, I can look at it more objectively.  I'm not as attached to leaving things as they are, to tinkering at the edges.  A scalpel won't do--I need a hacksaw.    

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