Some books enchant, others repel. The other day I closed a book after 30 pages and drove it directly back to the library branch it had been borrowed from. I pulled an illegal u-turn and parked in a tow zone, risking all to be rid of it. Clunky writing, horrific story; thank you, no!
Another, by a lauded literary writer, had an interesting set up but was so poorly told I pressed it on a writer friend as a great example of a how not to tell a story.
Why keep reading?
When we open a book, we take a leap. And sometimes weâ€™re rewarded: weâ€™re hooked, weâ€™re grabbed, weâ€™re taken in.
From a stack of newly published books I pulled C.E. Morganâ€™s â€œAll the Living,â€ Farrar Straus Giroux, $23. I was nabbed by its first sentence: â€œShe had never lived in a house and now, seeing the thing, she was no longer sure she wanted to.â€
She is Aloma, a young woman just out of school, orphaned at a young age, arriving at the tobacco farm her boyfriend, Orren, has come to own.
Sex is their common ground. Sheâ€™s a trained musician, aching to leave the moment she arrives. He devotes his every hour to saving his familyâ€™s farm. When Aloma signs on to play piano for the local church, the pastor quietly, and heartbreakingly, pursues her. It sounds hopelessly old-fashioned, but the bookâ€™s most moving passage is when the pastor shames Aloma for leading him on.
Itâ€™s a present day story but the world weâ€™re taken into — its language, and foods, and landscape — seems from the near past. Television, but itâ€™s on only for its tornado warnings. Telephones, but no cell phones; no texting, no tweeting. Places to eat, but no fast food. â€œDonâ€™t be illâ€ means â€œdonâ€™t be mad.â€
Thereâ€™s no bad guy, no boogie man lurking in the woods. The only menace is the drought, and a mean rooster, and Orrenâ€™s buried grief for the family heâ€™s lost.
Itâ€™s a Plot 101 tale — will she stay or will she go? — but the quality of the prose kept me reading. A simple story in a remarkable landscape, tightly focused and exquisitely wrought. A model of Aristotleâ€™s unities of time, place and action.
It had me in its grip all weekend.