Monday, September 28, 2009

And No One Said "Ayeah"

I don't think I've ever discussed an adult novel here that didn't have crossover potential for YA. I don't think All That I Have by Castle Freeman, Jr. has much of that, what with its middle-aged characters dealing with work and marriage. What it does have that might be of interest to kidlit people is a powerful voice.

Voice is adored in children's literature, particularly in YA. Thus we in kidlit worship at the feet of the first-person narrator, because that's the quick and dirty way to a strong voice. Unfortunately, a great many first-person child and YA narrators sound alike. You've got your small town eccentric kids, your mouthy types, your tortured adventure heroes, your Georgia Nicholson wannabes, and this year's Holden Caulfield. And now we're developing a pool of books with an autistic voice.

How many times have you read a blurb about an author being a fresh new voice, then read the book and realized that you'd heard this character somewhere before?

I don't know if voice is as important to readers and reviewers of adult fiction. I probably don't read enough adult fiction to be able to hazard a guess. But Lucian Wing, the first-person narrator of All That I Have, does have a marvelous voice. His voice sounds as if it was created for him, a particular person who happens to be a product of a particular culture. He doesn't sound as if his voice was created to make him sound like a kind of character, say, the philosopher rubes you often see in books set in rural places, particularly Vermont, the setting for All That I Have.

I grew up around ain't and used it myself as a child. It annoys the hell out of me to see it in print now. It's a four-letter word and grating a lot of the time. Language does define character, but too often ain't seems as if it's supposed to be making a STATEMENT about a character and not a good one. It sounds perfectly natural coming out of Lucian's mouth, though. He's a good man who just happens to talk this way.

I guess what I'm thinking here--and saying--is that in All That I Have voice and character are integrated better than they are in a lot of books. The voice is the way it is because of who Lucian is. I'm wondering now, what came first, Lucian or his voice?

Shouldn't the character come first? And if it does, won't that help eliminate all the sameness in first-person narrators?

Something for us to think about.

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Monday, July 27, 2009

Bears Are So Much Better Than Fairies. And Dragons.

I should have hated Tender Morsels by Margo Lanagan. It's set in one of these fantasy worlds where everyone has made-up sounding names (possibly because they are). It seems as if it might be an allegory, which try my patience. And the characters address each other in contrived ways, referring to mams and babbies and suchlike. (Oops. It's catching.)

But I didn't hate Tender Morsels. Not at all. Reading Tender Morsels is an experience. It's a dense, meaty book, chuck full of stuff, and it took me close to a week to get through it. All the time I was reading it, I felt I was being exposed to something very unique, that I was most fortunate to have stumbled upon this title.

And there were no fairies or dragons! The bears, on the other hand, were quite riveting.

And to think I'd been looking at this book at my library for months and would never have picked it up (it being a fantasy), if not for the Brits getting all in a lather over it.

If you missed Meg Rosoff's take on Tender Morsels back in April when she was serving as a judge for the Battle of the Kids' Books, check it out. "I knew almost immediately that I was reading something utterly astonishing."

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