Wednesday, April 29, 2015

So Many Books... The Catch-Up Edition

I haven't asked you to suffer through yet another reading slump, or the writing-about-what-I've-read slump, either. Aren't you grateful?

But I haven't been not reading. And here's proof times three.

Full disclosure here: Marlin (known to his friends as Bart) and I have known each other for years, and we met when he joined the staff of the bookstore shortly after I did. He's gone on to much bigger and better things, of course, so I can honestly say I knew him when. He teaches creative writing at a local Youth Facility as well as in the Low-Residency MFA  program at Converse College. He's won so many awards for his writing that I think he might even have lost count.

So why haven't I ever written about him here? That's simple. I have this thing about reading anything people I know have written, and yes, I know how dreadful that sounds. What I have typically discovered is that I cannot divorce my friend's voice from my friend's character's voices. That has almost always meant that I was a harsher critic than was fair.

There's also this: I typed manuscripts for Bart back in his early writing career, and had to put aside my reading instinct and just type words on a page. When those books were published, I couldn't read them because I had sweated through every revision, every rewrite, every "take this adjective out.... no, put that adjective back in" and I knew I'd be bringing those memories with me. (It was an invaluable experience, though. I envy his writing students, but I sure learned a lot about the craft just from working for him in this way.)

I decided I was going to get over myself, though, and I decided to read his most recent collection Pasture Art, although as a rule I gravitate away from short stories. But here's my bottom line: Marlin Barton is such a meticulous artist, reading these stories was like walking through a museum: some pieces stirred my heart; some had me shaking my head; and some I'd go back and visit over and over again fully expecting to find something new each time. One of them,  Into Silence, is one that I'd rank with the finest short stories I've ever read.

I had allowed myself plenty of time with Pasture Art, and was in the mood for a guaranteed quick read. I picked up Lee Child's Never Go Back. I have never read a Lee Child book that didn't entertain, and it had been a long time since I had spent any time with Jack Reacher.

In this instance, however, I should have let the title be more instructive. I'm just going to give you a minute to figure out what I thought of it. 

After that fiasco, I opted to stay away from sure things. My interest was piqued by a review of Claire Fuller's Our Endless Numbered Days. I'd never heard of her, liked the quirky set up, and was hoping I'd discover a true gem. 

Peggy is 8 years old when her father James, a survivalist, leaves her mother and takes Peggy deep into the wilderness. When the idea that this is a great adventure has begun to wear thin, Peggy presses her father to take her home, and it is then he tells her that everyone in the world is dead, save them. Years pass, endless days of scrambling to survive, learning on the job, as it were, how not to die when you have no provisions. In time, however, she is found and reunited with her mother, and it is only then her ordeal assumes the gravitas it has deserved all along. 

Fuller interweaves the wilderness and reintroduction narratives to great effect, and I found myself wanting to protect Peggy in both her lives. 

Our Endless Numbered Days didn't blow me away, but I'm awfully glad to have read it.