Thursday, December 30, 2010

Three stories split into two different times

I found myself chuckling at coincidence. The last three books I’ve read have all been told with the storyline split to flip between two different times – the story present, and another pivotal story in the past. All three stories flipped back and forth between the two times. And, I didn’t plan it that way. Nevertheless, tic, tack, toe!

The first novel, Where the River Ends by Martin, was one I’d been planning on reading and preparing to read for half a year, since reading his When Crickets Cry (still the best novel I’ve read all year). It’s a serious read that requires focus – hence the preparation and planning for a time when I could give that devotion. While Where the River Ends did not trump Crickets, the story brought tears to my eyes. The story is of a couple at two points in their relationship: at the end, as one of them prepares to die of cancer and at the beginning, when they first fell in love. I’m not doing the novel or the writer justice in my description, but this was a marvelous book with action, romance, and lyrical prose. I’d find myself rereading sections for their musical qualities – but the beauty of the writing did not hinder the plot’s momentum.

The second novel, Rescue by Shreve, also split its story between a past first-falling-in-love section and a story-present line. The male protagonist in Rescue is unlucky/clunky in life – but not to the point I couldn’t bond with him as a reader. And the third novel, I’d Know You Anywhere by Lippman, not only splits up the novel’s place in time but also splits up its narrative voice, allowing readers into the minds of multiple characters. Some of those characters I wanted to see punished – and though revenge was not enacted, at least not to the extent of my desire, the end was more than satisfying. Even surprisingly satisfying, perhaps.

Breaking up a story into two different time chunks is tricky, I think (for as much as that’s worth), as a writer. And as a reader, sometimes this device irritates me so much I put the book down. But these three novels were fantastic reads, and I was engrossed in all of them, in all the different times. Compared with telling first one story and then jumping ahead and telling the other story, the back-and-forth created a type of drama, or tension, with the potential for surprise, which only enhanced the novels.

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