Friday, September 14, 2007

Stretching Your Sympathetic Imagination, Exercise 7

Here is the last exercise from Susan O'Dohery's book Getting Unstuck that I'm going to post. This one is about expanding beyond your comfort zone in what you read, so you can stop being so snobby and judgmental about other kinds of writing. The idea is you might actually grow as a writer this way. Even if only a leetle tiny bit.

So I'm a big ol' snoot-snot about most kinds of "genre" books. Partly because I haven't been made to read many of them, partly because they come in ugly fat supermarket-style book forms, partly because all the biggest nerds I know (including my man) have bookshelves crammed with them, and this turns me off like a mouthful of bad teeth. Whatever, I'm a nightmare, whatever.

I asked my husband to recommend a good genre book written by a woman. He piled about five of them on me, a few in that tattered-flimsy-yellowed form, and a few nice hardbacks. I chose Thus Was Adonis Murdered by Sarah Caudwell, one of the former kinds. It's crime/mystery novel written in wordy British. (As opposed to American, an entirely different language by contrast.) Funny that I should choose this considering my aversion to bad teeth.

My response upon finishing it: huh. Nice little read. I do not feel changed, I did not learn anything new about myself or humanity. I may have learned a few things about arcane British tax law. I was not transported in any way. The writing was witty, taking place almost entirely in conversation. But there were no evocative images, nor much in the way of appealing to the senses. It was a murder mystery wrapped in a play of manners with English attorneys as the central players. I suppose you could say that is also true of the movie "Gosford Park," but GP at least delved into the culture clash of Americans, English upper classes and their servants. Adonis did not.

In any case, I wasn’t moved by this book. But I had fun with it.

I did appreciate how, in a mystery, every detail matters. Something I can stand to work on in my fiction is how certain objects or small behaviors of characters can tilt things one way or another. Nothing can be there for fluff, it all has to be considered a part of the storytelling. What if I wrote my Oly novel* as a murder mystery? The murderer is whatever kills the relationship. And it will seem almost preordained. I think it was preordained.

God, could I really take up that novel again?

I liked that the language was an important part of the story in Adonis. It's not what I expected for a genre novel. The conversations were hilarious in their circumvention of saying anything outright. Crazy flippin' Brits.

The other interesting thing is that one never knows whether the narrator is male or female. It’s interesting how that disturbed things for me. When I wanted to decide whether another character was treating the narrator properly, it mattered. I couldn’t tell.

I’m glad I did this and I think I may move on to something sci-fi. That’s an area where I have a real prejudice. And it’s too bad because lots of smart people who I respect read sci-fi. I need to get over myself. Maybe this will help.

* "My Oly novel" is a novel I wrote two years ago in 30 days as a part of National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo. Every now and then I take it out and move things around and masturbate with it a little (in a figuritive sense, of course), decide it's juicy and decide it's all fucked, and then I don't look at it again for awhile.


Anonymous said...

Try Octavia Butler for your sci-fi fix...

susie said...

Thanks, Anonymous!