Revived–again–by fiction

After a long season of writing, re-writing, and editing, diving into the fiction of others makes for a fun change of pace. Immersion in the work of those who really know what they’re doing inspires me, too, and makes me less willing to settle too soon for the sentences and paragraphs with which I build my own stories.

So, in terms of recent forays into fiction? The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt–after seeing it on the beach chairs of several over Christmas break. Then I found Tom Raschmann’s sophomore book, The Rise and Fall of Great Powers. I thoroughly enjoyed Raschmann’s The Imperfectionists (a collection of vignettes strung loosely into a novel that charmed me instantly), and his second book, wildly different, was no less affecting. The cleverness per ounce of Rise & Fall was breathtaking (it reminded me of Tom Holt’s gems, like this one; or Jasper Fforde’s); I kept reading to see if he could maintain the pace (yes, mostly), and if there would still be a story beneath all the fireworks (yep).

buried giantAnd then, Buried Giant pulled me in. There has been lots of interest in this book; one reason is that Kazuo Ishiguro has an Annie Dillard-like pace in book production and, like Dillard, hits it out of the park pretty consistently. Books like this offer master classes in writing fiction (so long as one can slow down long enough to pay attention to how the writer is pulling this off)–but they also are terrifically winsome. The story is so strong, the writing so effortless, the creation of a world so thorough that one cannot help being swept into the fog-enshrouded landscape and wanting to linger with engaging characters.

Ishiguro resists ties to any particular type of fiction. He’s comfortable with the period piece (Remains of the Day), science fiction (Never Let Me Go), and detective thriller (When We Were Orphans). For Giant, he enters the realm of Arthurian legend with a  story that takes its own sweet time. With its long setup, laconic pacing, absence of explosions or car chases, and heroes that are nearly relics, one might ask how the book can possibly hold one’s attention in an age of jump cuts and air-brushing. But it does, and splendidly, as Ishiguro weaves a tale of vengeance, forgiveness, and courage. All this is in the service of a study on memory, and its power and effect on individuals, small groups, and large communities. But then dig a bit deeper and Giant, it seems to me, wants to examine love, in ways that are as circuitous and as breathtaking as Dillard’s latest and last novel, The Maytrees.

The Buried Giant is evocative, moody. You feel the damp, squint in the dimness, hear the birds, sense what goes unspoken between characters. Like all good fiction, it constructs a neighborhood I’d happily visit if not inhabit. Indeed, I haven’t been in a world this compelling since Erin Morgenstern’s Night Circus–and like that engrossing book, I both wanted to read more of Giant and dreaded arriving at the last page.

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