In this post I talk about three debut novels: CALL ME HOME, Megan Kruse, YOUR HEART IS A MUSCLE THE SIZE OF A FIST, Sunil Yapa, ONLY LOVE CAN BREAK YOUR HEART, Ed Tarkington
Today, I was reminded by my favorite bookseller, Marlene, that we had discussed my being employed in position of Resident Curmudgeon at The Curious Iguana [click here]; a possibility first considered when I one day spent fifteen minutes ranting and raving about having read yet another book too-touted by the tight-knit clan of literati that I found to be less than tout-able. We (well, in fairness, mostly I) thought someone ought to be available to say rot and twaddle, and who better than I, who have found in my dotage an awful lot of parading naked Emperors, armed with MFAs and hawking Kool-Aid I refuse any longer to sip!
You’ve been warned. I’m in a mood. There are entirely too many books too much the same in tone and structure and they’re oohed and ahhed over and I am sick and tired of them. I’m not a young man. When I’m promised something will thrill, excite, enthrall, and enrapture me, and am left tumescent only with disappointment, literarily blue-balled from lack of blue-penciling, I am bound to be a bit testy (testes – don’t tes-teased me, something about that ought to have been funnier – but, see here, I am a one-man band, a one hander, a – oh forget it).
CALL ME HOME, Megan Kruse, Paperback, 292 pages, March, 2015, Hawthorne Books This was brought to my attention and passed on to me by a friend who thought it worth a read. It has all sorts of blurbing going for it and an introduction by Elizabeth Gilbert. This is a story of abuse mistaken for love, the damage and disaster of dysfunctional families, and the power of forgiveness. The writing is quite skilled, the emotions spent and sputtered are often powerfully moving, but, finally, for me, it was a trifle self-conscious in execution and when I ought to have been entranced, I was, instead, put off by a sort of reportorial, researched tone. A debut novel, I look forward to her next work.
YOUR HEART IS A MUSCLE THE SIZE OF A FIST, Sunil Yapa, Hardcover, 320 pages, January, 2016, Little, Brown and Company
Another debut novel by another MFA holder. One review (or two, maybe) talk of how good a heart this book has, how it means well. It takes place during the 1999 World Trade Organization protests in Seattle, and it dances around one after another dichotomy and contradiction of character, basically good people doing rotten things in complicated circumstances. Admirable aim, exploration of such things, but the entire thing felt academic to me, without grounding in real, earned emotion.
Once upon a time, decades ago, I took a directing class. When it came time to present the scenes, one student-director had given the actor playing Don, a blind singer-songwriter, the action of throwing his music to the ground during an argument with his Mother, who was railing against his musical, free-spirited lifestyle. The professor stopped the scene there and ejected the student-director from the class (never go to a theatre school, kids, where the faculty is comprised mostly of people bitter about having failed to succeed at what they are now teaching) and while the punishment was too harsh, the reasoning was sound. Don loved his music, it was symbol of the very self and life he was defending, and no anger could justify his throwing it to the ground, an action which would only have been appropriate had the director meant to ultimately give sympathy and victory to the Mother. All wrong.
For me, in Your Heart Is A Muscle The Size Of A Fist, when the character of the head of the Seattle Police force, Bishop, burns a stack of books belonging to his late wife, it was the very same thing; It did not make sense, the event meant as motivation for him to set the flames did not, for me, justify the action, and so everything else about him, and all the things which happened because of that, were un-grounded, false, flawed, an unearned pyrotechnics, as it were.
Which sums this book up, rather. I am exhausted by writers auteur-ing like Tarantino; exploiting & exploding for effect rather than exploring and earning emotions. This book has the feel of something annoyingly over-workshopped. One can near hear the other MFAs in the room cooing and ahhhing at all the literary pyrotechnics – or – pyrotechniquing – and by the last third I was skimming through the pages of self-congratulatory, masturbatory describings and ruminatings. More editing. Less posturing.
Sorry, I warned you I was cranky.
ONLY LOVE CAN BREAK YOUR HEART, Ed Tarkington, Hardcover, 320 pages, January, 2016, Algonquin Books This is another debut novel. Hmm. Maybe I ought not read three debut novels in a row? I’ll tell you this, I was liking this book for about the first two-hundred pages. It felt old-school in the good way; lots of plot, lovely writing, a story well-told. Then, off the rails it went. I don’t think it needed the murder. I would much rather have spent more time with Paul and Leigh. I’m not sure Rocky narrating was the way to go if one wanted the final third of the book to happen and the way it was tied up, ribboned, bowed, happy-ended(ish), seemed random and less than honest as well. But, there was much to love in this and I think Bethanne Patrick (you ought to follow her on Twitter, the BookMaven, click here) said it best, and far better than can I, in her review at NPRBooks (click here for that review).
Probably unfair to these three debut novels to have read them so soon after the brilliant few books I read the week before (click here for those recaps) but, there it is. And, it is not impossible that I, book blogger, who have failed to be a published author, am as bitter as the directing teacher I spoke of above — but I think not. I love many, many books, as anyone who follows me knows. And, I am truly looking forward to new books by Paul Lisicky and Garth Greenwell, both of which come out tomorrow and will be waiting for me at The Curious Iguana.
So, until next time kids, Love and Light from the curmudgeon, and forfreakssake, write from your heart, not from a formula, and listen to what your soul tells you, not the advice from your writing group.
Here I am, before I offend anyone else, going.