Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The Story of Edgar Sawtelle

I am reading The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, which has created a lot of excitement this summer. Oprah magazine calls it a "classic in the making" and Stephen King says he "flat out loved" it.

As I started reading, echoes of writing advice flittered in my mind, nagging me about how a book should not have a prologue and about how the very first line should tell the story immediately, not the backstory.

Well, this book begins with a prologue. And when Chapter 1 proper begins, it doesn't even begin with Edgar's story but his grandfather's. Actually after one sentence on the grandfather, we read about the man from whom the grandfather bought the land. For many pages, we read about the grandfather, and then the father. Even the dog gets a few pages in her viewpoint before we are properly introduced to Edgar.

But what an introduction! The author switches to punchy sentences, brilliant images, and whatever other magic he employs to make joy leap off the pages. I found myself smiling and feeling warm and tender and giggly all at once.

I love this book already, even though I haven't finished it. Its heftiness thrills me, I know I'll spend many delirious hours with it.

But my experience with the book did make me think, about writing advice, about the publishing industry, about authenticity and conformity, about rules and exception, about why people read.

I am going let these ideas brew a little while in my mind before I try to wrangle something resembling coherent thoughts from them. In the mean time, I'll leave you with random quotes that have made me linger and sigh.

Clouds like bruises scud over the fields...The pines flap their branches in the gusts, swimmers in the wind. He walks to the window to see if the treetops actually pierce the clouds.

Then Edgar was running through the cold, the house jerking in his vision.

The cold was fearsome, the sky above dilute and punctured by stars.

Fragmentary emotions possessed and released him...Below the chaos of image and memory, something so powerfully suppressed he would barely remember it.

No comments: