A couple days ago I finished reading a novel that I’d been eager to get my hands on and had heard a lot of raving about on Twitter and whatnot. I’m trying to stretch beyond poetry writing and understand what makes fiction tick, so I’m reading more novels. This particular book threw me for a loop. The first half was beautifully paced and threaded together. I was enjoying it as a reader and taking notes as a writer. But then, in a matter of about 10 pages (in a 300-ish page book), the climax arrived, was delivered via hasty dialogue, and dissolved without any real revelations or conclusions.
My first reaction was, So what? And that was quickly followed by, Wait, this counts? This counts as a finished book?
This tends to be my struggle with literary fiction. Poetry - and story for that matter - doesn’t have to resolve itself or present neat conclusions, but I do feel that strong writing has a revelatory quality. While literary fiction is often symbolic, that doesn’t always come together as meaningful, satisfying revelation.
Carl was next to me as I sighed through the last few frustrating pages of the book. When I explained myself, he offered his own revelation:
Every book a writer reads brings the target closer.
Before I read this book, I was sure this author must have some magical quality, some secret knowledge of fiction that must be an ocean away from me. Reading the reviews and blurbs certainly gave me that impression. This is where fiction always intimidates me.
But Carl is right — despite the disappointment in the end, when I looked up from reading the book, I saw a target instead of a vast ocean with no shoreline in sight. I saw a place to aim.
It’s always said that writers should read, read, read. And that is true, true, true. But the image of bringing the target closer is one that helps me a lot. I wonder how many books I need to read before I can push the arrow in the target like a pin?