Friday, November 23, 2007

Among Other Things, I've Taken Up Smoking by Aoibheann Sweeney

A lyric coming of age novel about a young woman raised on an island in Maine who goes to Manhattan.

The first third of this novel is about a girl who lives alone with her father, who is completing a translation of Ovid's Metamorphoses, on an island along the coast of Maine. As you might guess, there's a lonely feeling to the place, the people, and even the past. I was really hooked by the opening, and the strange character of Mr. Blackwell who first spends a lot of time with the family and then doesn't. Then the novel moves, with the narrator, to New York. And I was really excited to see what such a talented writer would do with a major shift in story. I was surprised but pleased by the thought that the novel was going to break out of what it seemed to be (a Howard Normanesque remote town remote people novel)....

And when I started to lose interest, I first thought it was because New York, grand city that it is, just doesn't have that fresh feeling. But really I was still invested in the main character, and the setting--which included a peculiar little research institute was handled just fine. The problem was the new characters. Mr. Blackwell and the narrator's father are replaced with a whole host of New Yorkers who are polite, articulate, recognizable, and ultimately pretty dull. There are some great revelations about the narrator's family history (things that are handled very subtlely and touchingly), but the current story loses all its intensity when the new cast comes in.

I've been thinking lately about lessons television drama has to offer a fiction writer (hey, tv's gotten really good lately! See Friday Night Lights for proof.) and here's an obvious one: the new cast has to bring something pretty great to the story otherwise we're going to resist them. Season Two's are always trying to intro new characters to give the writers new plotlines and novel writers often have a similar problem--how to keep the story going--to complicate the plot usually--a hundred pages in. New characters are a great solution, but only if they have their own appeal and their own agendas.

No comments: