I just finished reading an astounding debut novel by a very talented author. The writer got everything right in terms of plot, structure, character, setting and flow. The work spoke in a unique voice that immediately created empathy with the reader. BUT, and this is one of those really good “buts,” the real achievement of this novel dealt with its subject matter. Or specifically the unique way the author chose not to deal with it.
This novel carries a theme, right out of today’s national strife. Most of the first works of authors who are using a novel to point out social injustice or cultural rot, do so in a manner that oft times poisons the work with vitriol, resentment or a polarizing posture so much, often too much, as to make the text preachy, heavy, overladen with agenda; wholly unengaging to a fiction reader. Mostly because when an atrocity or unfairness is pointed out, we can all respond that it’s wrong, but in a novel, (as opposed to a text book) too much hammering the point becomes belligerent and many readers put the book aside. After all, who wants to be yelled at or preached to, or in some cases, made to feel guilty by electing to read a novel.
In this case, the author, who has every birthright to be bitter, angry and condemning, instead has found an amazing way to deal with the horror, injustice, and inequity in America with a neutral, matter-of-fact manner that is even more chilling and terrifying than if he pointed at the monster and said, “There it is.”
Admittedly, the inspiration for many novels comes from deep rooted passion and/or a burning discontent with the way things are. The art of writing is, in part, to make the lesson palatable; even subliminal so that the desired effect is achieved and the reader brought to a new understanding as a happy result of a great read.
Being blinded by passions, overtaken by emotion and grinding out that “get even” tome is usually the hallmark of an inexperienced novelist. Again, a non-fiction book or essay on society’s ills would have different rules, and much of what I just described is probably perfectly appropriate in that context, but a novel must entertain as well as reflect, educate and enlighten. If it does those things, I believe it reaches the largest possible audience and within that group, the very people who need to be enlightened.
Last week, by agreeing to read and blurb this new work, I learned so much about how to engage, illuminate AND entertain. In the coming weeks you learn this author’s name and the name of his towering work. Right now, it’s still in the publishing phase. As soon as it is out and you can experience, it will be all over this page. (Maybe even invite him to guest blog.)